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State of Caring 2017

Carers UK carries out an annual survey of carers to understand the state of caring in the UK. This year over 7000 people shared their experience of what it’s like to be a carer in 2017. This is the largest State of Caring Survey carried out by Carers UK to date.Debate on the balance of responsibility for care between individuals and the state was central in the run up to the 2017 General Election. The huge amount of care already provided by families and friends both practically and financially was not acknowledged enough in that debate, nor was the importance of supporting those people caring unpaid.A spotlight was shone on the inadequacy of the current system, on its unfairness and on the inconsistencies of how care for different health conditions is provided and paid for. Care for conditions like cancer and diabetes is largely paid for through the National Health Service whilst in contrast, conditions like dementia require social care services and these are subject to both a needs and a means test. All these issues are evident in the experience carers reported in response to our survey. It is more than five years since the NHS in England began its programme of efficiency savings. A huge transformation is now underway in the way health and care are delivered which has as one of its aims achieving financial savings. NHS spending across the UK has not kept pace with demand from an ageing population living longer with complex health conditions and it is clear that spending on health and care will continue to be under considerable pressure across the UK.

In this context the enormous contribution of family and friends in the UK, the main providers of care, which is estimated to be worth £132 billion per year, roughly equivalent to the NHS budget, is more important than ever.

Yet, three quarters (73%) of carers responding to this year’s survey feel that their contribution is not understood or valued by the Government. Nor do the majority feel the public value their contribution. This is consistent with recent polling of the public more widely which showed that the vast majority of the public (74%) think that carers are not sufficiently valued by society.

These findings should act as a wake up call to policy makers and to the public. Yet, rather than a health and care system which values and supports carers, our 2017 survey suggests that too often carers are being pushed into poor health through lack of access to practical support and breaks.Lack of social care funding is reflected in the failure of local authorities to consistently assess carers and put in place support. In England and Wales new legal duties to support carers have still yet to become a practical reality for carers. Whilst in Northern Ireland there is currently a power but no legal duty on Health and Social Care Trusts to provide services outlined in Assessments. The absence of system incentives in the NHS and the repeal of the Carers Measure in Wales mean that the mechanisms to support carers consistently through primary care are not in place.

Evidence from carers on the financial impact of caring shows that far from having their contribution appropriately recognised by the social care and social security system, people providing unpaid care are struggling to make ends meet and, unable to protect their future financial security, are being made vulnerable to poverty and financial hardship both in the short and long-term.

The importance of flexible working to retain older workers and the need for support for people to enter or return to the workforce after time spent away has been consistently identified in Government strategies. Yet, the difficulty of remaining in work alongside providing care comes across strongly again in the 2017 survey.

It’s clear that the way we value and support the contribution of carers is at the heart of addressing some of the current major challenges our society is facing. It is also of even more fundamental importance; caring and being cared for is part of being human and something which almost everyone will experience at some point in their lives. An action plan for supporting people well when they take on a caring role must be at the heart of the UK Government’s agenda and the priorities of national, regional and local government across the UK. We are a caring society, and we should ensure that there is care for the carers.