The majority of care is provided not by doctors, nurses or care workers but by family and friends. Given that our health and care system will continue to rely heavily on unpaid care, its central role in our health economy and the cost of replacing it must be better understood.
This research is the latest in a series of reports setting out in stark financial terms how the value of unpaid care has increased in response to an increasing demand for care and spending pressure on already stretched NHS and social care budgets.
More of those born with disabilities are surviving into adulthood and later life, and many are surviving serious illness like cancer or stroke. The number of us living with long-term conditions is increasing, creating new demands for our health and care service. Our rapidly ageing population and longer life expectancies mean that the numbers of those in need of care and support is beginning to exceed the numbers of working age family members able to provide it.
This is reflected in the rapidly growing number of people caring around the clock. As this report shows, the 16.5% rise since 2001 in the number of people providing
unpaid care is faster than the growth in the general population and represents a large growth in caring, with a higher proportion of people providing care. The 43%
increase in people providing substantial amounts of care (20-49 hours per week) is particularly remarkable. There has also been a sharp increase of 33% in the numbers of those caring for 50 or more hours per week.
Despite this, economic and societal circumstances continue to put pressure on families. Difficult economic conditions have led to a reduction in spending in critical
public services like social care. Plans to reform how caring is paid for have been paused. Welfare reform, the introduction of criteria for Housing Benefit in the social
sector and the localisation of support with Council Tax have left many carers struggling with the cost of living. Although Carer’s Allowance and some elements of carers’ benefits have been protected from a freeze to the uprating of benefits, changes to financial support included in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill threaten
to reduce the income of many carers still further.
The huge contribution of carers to society needs to be recognised and more must be done to put the financial, practical and workplace support in place that carers urgently need. Without this support, more and more carers will reach breaking point, with devastating results for families and our health and care system.
This demographic challenge requires a clear and urgent response from national and local government, health and care services and employers. A key part of this
challenge is how the role of unpaid care can be better understood and supported by and through public services including the NHS, social security and the workplace so that families can care without damaging their own wellbeing, finances and opportunities. This report concludes with five key recommendations on how caring roles can be sustained and supported.