4 Apr 2024 Report

Caring Unseen: Unpaid Carers Polling Report

Summary of the findings of a poll of 1,000 unpaid carers across England, focusing on wellbeing, awareness of care support options, political outlook, and future projections.

In the United Kingdom, the landscape for unpaid carers is increasingly acknowledged as a critical area of concern, with the number of individuals taking on the role of providing unpaid care for family members or friends reaching an estimated 10.6 million, according to research conducted by Carers UK.

These carers are an indispensable part of the healthcare system, delivering services that, if provided by professionals, would cost the government £162 billion annually according to research from the University of Sheffield and Carers UK, more than the entire day-to-day spending of NHS England last year. Their contributions, however, often come with significant personal costs to those providing care, particularly emotionally, physically, and financially.

Unpaid carers face a myriad of challenges, from the balancing act of juggling employment and care responsibilities to the emotional and physical toll of caregiving. Financially, the situation for many is precarious. While some may qualify for support schemes such as the Carer’s Allowance—a government benefit aimed at providing financial support to those who care for someone at least 35 hours a week - the support is often deemed insufficient, failing to fully address the economic sacrifices made by carers. The allowance, at just £76.75 per week, does not adequately compensate for the loss of income, career opportunities, and pension contributions, leaving many carers in a vulnerable financial position.

As part of recent approaches to tackling the issues faced by unpaid carers, the Carer’s Leave Act, proposed by the Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, is scheduled to come into force this April. The Act provides a statutory entitlement to one week of unpaid leave per year for eligible employees, offering them crucial time to arrange or provide care for dependents with long-term care needs. Though a move that appears welcome, some remain critical of its unpaid nature. The Liberal Democrats, for example, have promised to make the Act paid if elected.

Despite these advancements, there remains a pressing need for broader support mechanisms to be introduced for unpaid carers. Calls for improved financial support, access to respite care, and greater recognition of carers’ rights in the workplace continue to grow.

The Covid-19 pandemic further underscored the vulnerabilities faced by unpaid carers, emphasising the essential nature of their role and the critical need for robust support systems that can adapt to crises.

As the number of unpaid carers continues to rise, more comprehensive strategies are needed. These strategies should aim to alleviate the financial burden on carers, provide significant support for their health and well-being, and ensure that carers are recognised as an integral part of the healthcare system.

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