Nearly 8 million unpaid carers are ‘propping up’ the broken care system

Report calls for better support for the UK's growing army of unpaid family carers.

Nearly 8 million family carers in the UK are “propping up the care system” by providing unpaid care for relatives and other loved-ones, whilst also paying a significant personal and financial price for the care they provide, according to a new report from the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank.

Research has calculated that around 7.6 million adults are giving up their time to provide unpaid care for relatives, up 1 million since 2005 and equal to almost 15% of adults living in the UK.

In their report published on Monday, the SMF says the proportion of family carers providing 20 or more hours of unpaid care each week has increased from 24% in 2005 to reach 28% in 2015, with family carers providing an average 19.5 hours of unpaid care each week.

In total, family carers are sacrificing 149 million hours to care for loved-ones every week, equal to 4 million paid care-givers working full-time hours.

However, this level of unselfishness can have a devastating impact on the carers’ health and work prospects, with family carers less likely to be in employment than non-carers and more likely to earn far less.

According to the report, carers earn 13% less per hour than non-carers: female cares earn 4% less than non-carers and male carers are paid 13% less than their colleagues.

Older people are more likely to be carers: 26% of women aged 55 – 59 provide care to a relative. Only 16% of men in the same age bracket do so.

A typical male non-carer aged 40-64 has an average gross monthly income of £2,584, while a male care giver earns £2,167. Female non-carers have media earnings of £1,500 per month, compared £1,450 for carers.

The SMF warns that without improved support for unpaid carers, a significant number of women could fall out of the labour market altogether because they are more likely to be carers than men.

The report warns: “We expect the labour market to become increasingly concentrated in the management and professional occupations and a failure to support working carers could lead to a reduction in the number of women in these roles.”

The report makes the following recommendations:

– Employees should record the number of their staff who have caring responsibilities.
– “Care pay gap” reporting could be required, where employers would publicly report the pay rates of staff with caring responsibilities and that of those of comparable staff without caring duties.
– Big employers should be required to publish policies for supporting workers who care. Surveys suggest only 40% of large employers have policies setting out how managers should support carers.

The report’s author Kathryn Petrie said: “Family carers are vital to the social care system, providing millions of hours of care every week and often paying a high price for doing so. Any reform of the social care system must properly recognise and support family carers and the challenges they face.”

She continued: “More women with professional and managerial jobs are trying to combine work with family care. We know that carers are often driven to reduce their hours or leave work altogether and without proper support for these carers, there is a risk that women are increasingly driven out of professional careers, reversing recent progress towards equality in the workforce.

“While women still do most family care, more men are now caring for relatives and often paying a significant price as their earnings fall. Politicians and employers need to understand that caring affects everyone and take this issue more seriously.

“Growing numbers of employers want to talk about how they support parents at work, but not enough are helping staff combine work with caring for older relatives. ‘Care pay gap’ audits modelled on gender pay gap reporting could nudge employers to do better and keep more family carers in the workplace.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “This valuable new report confirms how incredibly reliant we are on the contributions of families and friends when it comes to the care of older people.

“Certainly they deserve our grateful thanks, but that’s not enough: the report shows many informal carers are losing out in terms of their work, finances and health.

“This is not only unfair but it is also unsustainable, and there is an urgent need for new Government measures to give them more practical support, help them balance working and caring, and mitigate their financial losses.

“The informal carers whom we meet at Age UK are usually deeply committed but they also often tell us that they are completely exhausted. Not only do they need more opportunities to take a break, they also require the back up of a reliable, effective social care system.

“When informal carers are trying to cope all on their own this is a recipe for burn out and the collapse of an arrangement which could otherwise work really well for an older person.

“The care system requires a big injection of funding over the next three years in the Autumn Budget, plus an ambitious Green Paper that looks to the medium and longer term.

“The extent to which the Green Paper recognises the needs of informal carers and comes up with effective measures for meeting them will be one of the most important tests of its success.

“It would be dangerously complacent for policymakers to assume there is an infinite supply of wonderful people able and willing to provide informal care for their loved ones.

“For all kinds of demographic, social and economic reasons our current system of social care is living on borrowed time – it urgently needs transforming and in 2018 we must make a serious start.”

Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK, said: “This report demonstrates much of the evidence that we’ve amassed over the past few years and takes it one step further.

“Caring is on the rise, the number of hours that individuals are doing is on the rise and caring can have clear negative impact on employment.

“This underlines our repeated call for stronger action from Government for greater funding for social care, for better awareness and recognition from the NHS and greater support in employment to be able to juggle work and care.

“With reducing Government funding and rising needs with an ageing population, it is no wonder that caring provided by families, unpaid, is on the rise. Yet the financial and personal consequences of this are significant for families, business and the economy.

“Only last week we published our State of Caring 2018 survey showing that 72% of carers had experienced mental ill-health as a result of caring, 35% had given up work to care, one in seven had seen a reduction in services even though their needs had stayed the same.

“We heard from carers struggling financially to make ends meet, people who were exhausted and unable to look after their own health needs, and many who were losing the battle to juggle work and care.

“What families and friends who care want is to be able to manage caring with work and other commitments, protect their health and not be in poverty.

“The moral, social and economic imperative of supporting carers by having a sustainably funded social care system, better recognition in the NHS and stronger support at work is ever more urgent for Government to act on.

“The Green Paper on social care and the 10 year strategy for the NHS offer opportunities to act on carers’ needs and make a real difference.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the invaluable contribution that carers make, but this should not be at the expense of their own health and happiness.

“The forthcoming social care green paper will look at long-term sustainable solutions for the social care system.”

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