The UK’s 6.8 million army of unpaid carers are saving the economy a staggering £132 billion a year, a new report reveals today.
A joint report from Carers UK, together with the University of Sheffield, reveals that the value of carers to the economy has almost doubled since 2001, from £68 billion to £132 billion.
The shocking amount is almost equal to the total spent on healthcare in the whole of the UK.
Researchers say the dramatic increase is mainly due to a rise in the number of hours unpaid carers devote to caring, as well as rising costs in professional replacement care.
Carers are now giving much more of their time to care for loved-ones. The number of unpaid carers providing 20-49 hours of care a week has soared by 43%, while those providing 50 hours or more have increased by 33%.
More people are providing care for loved-ones than ever before, with the carer population growing by 16.5% to 6.8 million in the last fifteen years. This easily outstrips general population growth, which grew by just 6.2% over the same period.
Chief Executive of Carers UK, Heléna Herklots, warned: “If even a small percentage of people were unable to continue caring, the economic impact would be catastrophic.
“Worryingly, we are edging towards this possibility, as the pressure on families to provide more care with less support is intensifying.”
There has also been a rapid rise in the number of people requiring care. According to the report, there are now 431,000 more people aged over 85 who need caring for, and 1.6 million more people with long-term health conditions also requiring care support.
However, Carers UK warns while the number of people requiring care continues to grow, carer support services offered by local authorities are being cut.
The amount of care provided by local authorities has fallen by 4.3% from 2011-2014. Estimates suggest that the funding gap between those who need care and available council budgets is around £700 million a year, leaving families in the unenviable position of having to step in to fill the gap.
Carers UK is calling for better financial support for carers and greater investment in social care services, ahead of George Osborne’s Spending Review on the 25 November.
Heléna Herklots said: “Caring will touch all of our lives at some point, yet society and public services still haven’t grasped the extent to which our economy relies on the unpaid care provided by family and friends.
“If even a small percentage of people were unable to continue caring, the economic impact would be catastrophic.
“As more people are caring for longer, they are doing so against a backdrop of cuts to social security and local care services. At a time when carers should be getting more support, they are in fact getting less.
“This is not only unacceptable but dangerously unsustainable. If carers aren’t supported to care well for both themselves and their loved ones, the NHS and other public services would be forced to step in. With NHS and local authority budgets already stretched to their limits, this would bring them to their knees.
“This must be a wake-up call for national and local government ahead of the Treasury’s Spending Review.
“The Government has helped to establish new rights for carers and has also committed to publishing a new Carers Strategy by the end of next year. But this will be undermined if the Spending Review does not recognise the vital contribution carers make, and can continue to make, to society by improving financial support for carers and investing in vital social care services.”
Sue Yeandle, Professor of Sociology at the University of Sheffield, added: “It is vital to recognise the true scale of carer support. In estimating the value of care, we are able to highlight the importance of the contribution that carers make, unpaid, to our society and our economy.
“There are more people caring for a loved one, and more people needing care, than ever before.
“This increase has occurred in the context of large reductions to home care services in recent years, raising serious concerns about whether the services families need to help them care well and have a life alongside caring will be there in the future.
“Carers are doing more than ever to support others; we must ensure that they get the support and recognition they need and deserve.”