This week is Carers’ Week, an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges unpaid carers face and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.
It also helps people who don’t think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers and access much-needed support. A carer is someone who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health condition or who needs extra help as they grow older.
New figures released today estimate 4.5m people in the UK have become unpaid carers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is on top of the 9.1m unpaid carers who were already caring before the outbreak, bringing the total to 13.6m.
The number of carers is based on YouGov Polling and ONS 2019 population estimates. The rise in number of carers was extrapolated from polling carried out by YouGov plc in May 2020 in a survey of 4,557 UK adults.
The Carers UK report found 2.7m women and 1.8m men have started caring for relatives who are older, disabled or living with a physical or mental illness. Typically, they will have been supporting loved ones from afar, helping with food shopping, collecting medicine, managing finances and providing reassurance and emotional support during the pandemic.
Some will have taken on intense caring roles, helping with tasks such as personal care, moving around the home, administering medication and preparing meals.
The report said 2.8m people who have started caring since the outbreak are also juggling paid work alongside their caring responsibilities, highlighting the need for working carers to be supported as they return to offices and work sites.
The six charities supporting Carers Week – Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Oxfam GB and Rethink Mental Illness – are calling on the UK Government to recognise and raise awareness of the role unpaid carers are playing during the pandemic and ensure they are supported through it, and beyond.
Both unpaid carers and adults without caring responsibilities said managing the stress and responsibility of being an unpaid carer was/ would be the top challenge when caring. Families are under a huge amount of pressure managing their caring roles and are worried about how they will cope in the weeks and months ahead.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK (pictured), said: “Recognising the contribution of unpaid carers to our society and properly supporting them has never been more important than during this pandemic. An additional 4.5 million people are caring for sick, older or disabled loved ones – that’s the NHS workforce three times over. It demonstrates the scale of the care being provided behind closed doors, mostly hidden from view.
“Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems. Yet many say they feel invisible and ignored. There are thousands caring round the clock without the practical support they would normally rely on to take a break, while others face increased costs accessing food and care products.
“The Government must not take unpaid carers for granted in this crisis. It must ensure their physical and mental health is looked after and it is imperative that, moving out of the pandemic, the Government rebuilds our care system so that carers are supported and families have the services they need to live better lives.”
Polling of more than 4,000 members of the UK general public over 18 shows unpaid carers have become more visible within society since the pandemic began. There is a majority consensus for unpaid carers to receive more support from the Government than they do currently.
- Nearly half (48%) of the public who have never cared said they are more aware of unpaid carers than before the outbreak.
- More than two thirds (69%) of the public do not think that unpaid carers have been supported by the Government during the crisis.
- Three quarters (75%) thought the Government should increase support for unpaid carers: such as better financial support as well as investment in care and support services so that carers can take a break.
The six Carers Week charities are calling on Government to urgently deliver a plan for social care reform and set out long term investment in care and support services. This would give unpaid carers the opportunity to take breaks from their caring role, and stay in paid work if they want to. The charities want to see an urgent rise in Carer’s Allowance – currently just £67.25 a week – and a one-off coronavirus supplement, in recognition of the vital role unpaid carers have played in the pandemic and the significant costs associated with caring.