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State of Caring 2014

6.5 million people in the UK are caring for family and other loved ones. Caring is a normal part of life. Though it can be hugely rewarding, it often impacts on the lives of carers in less positive ways – contributing to a deterioration in their health and well-being, creating difficulties in relationships with others, leading to feelings of isolation, and creating often insurmountable challenges for those juggling care alongside work and other family responsibilities. Over half of carers are already juggling caring with work.

Despite these costs, the number of families taking on caring responsibilities for our ageing population and the rising numbers of people living with disabilities and long-term conditions is growing.

Societal trends and the changing make-up of our population call for a system response from our public services and workplaces. This is bringing the ability of our welfare, health and care systems to support our changing needs into sharp focus.

As of January 2010, there were 15.4 million people in England alone with at least one long-term condition (around 30% of the population) and it is estimated that by 2025 this number will rise to 18 million.

A rapidly ageing population and longer life expectancies mean that there is an ever increasing need for care and support, but this need is quickly outstripping the number of family members able to provide it. This problem will become even more critical over the coming years, with demand for care provided by adults projected to rise by over 50% between 2007 and 2032, and the supply of this care projected to rise by only 20%.

Demographic trends require new responses from society. Demand for care and support from an older population is competing with the need to address a greater fiscal dependency on a smaller working age population. As we look to extend working lives to fit better with a longer life expectancy, it is vital to recognise the dramatic growth – an increase of 35% over ten years – in the number of people over 65 providing care.

Any expectation that growing demand can be met by an increase in care provided by family and friends should be tempered by recognition of the enormous and growing contribution carers are already making – the greatest increases are amongst those caring for over fifty hours a week. Instead, focus must be on recognising and supporting this contribution, and ensuring that the well-being, health and financial security of carers is nurtured.

Governments across the UK are already developing stronger legal rights for carers but a more far reaching recognition of carers must take place.

In order to make these rights a reality and bring the transformation needed to make caring understood, valued and sustainable for families, policymakers must consider the impact of caring today.