The strain on millions of unpaid carers is harming their health, jeopardising the care of loved ones they care for, and putting the adult social care system at an increased risk of collapse, council and care leaders are warning.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, and Carers UK say rising demand for care and the increasing costs of providing it is putting more pressure on families to look after loved ones, which is taking its toll on their health and wellbeing.
Many of the 5.7 million unpaid carers in England are unable to take a break from their demanding role looking after people with complex needs.
This means they are at increasing risk of needing care and support themselves. It also means the loved ones they are caring could require more costly social care or being admitted to hospital, creating a surge in demand on the NHS.
Latest research shows that nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of carers in England have suffered mental ill health, such as stress and depression, while 61 per cent have experienced physical ill health due to caring.
But despite the demands of their role, a fifth (20 per cent) of carers in England responding to Carers UK’s State of Caring Survey, the majority of them caring well over 50 hours a week, have not received a carer’s assessment in the past year.
The LGA estimates it would cost £150 million to provide these assessments alone which will help to identify their own support needs. This is more cost-effective than having to pay long-term costs for social care and emergency hospital care.
The LGA is calling for the cost of these assessments to be included in the long-term solution to paying for adult social care and for the Government’s delayed green paper on adult social care to support unpaid carers. It is also calling for sufficient funding to ensure services, such as carers’ breaks, are available to all carers who need them.
Action is needed, which is why, following the Government’s postponement of its green paper, the LGA has published its own green paper consultation to drive forward the public debate on what care and support is needed to improve people’s wellbeing and independence and, crucially how we fund these vital services.
More support needs to be made available to unpaid carers who are the most vital but often overlooked backbone of the adult social care system.
Not only is the number of people caring for a loved one increasing – including a 128 per cent rise in the number of carers in England aged 85 and over – they are caring for much longer periods.
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:
“Unpaid carers are the backbone of the care system, many of whom are unable to take a break, putting their own health on the line. Without these unsung heroes the system would collapse.
“But this vital network of family carers is at an increasing risk of breaking down due to the nature of the job, rising costs and demands for care, and the crisis in adult social care funding.
“Carers need breaks. Devoting significant time to unpaid care can not only lead to a downturn in carers’ health, it can also make it hard for them to maintain social relationships, keep working or learning, which could affect their financial security.
“More people are caring for a loved one than ever before and councils remain committed to helping carers, but significantly reduced funding is making this difficult.
“Councils in England receive 1.8 million new requests for adult social care a year – the equivalent of nearly 5,000 a day – and there is a £3.5 billion funding gap facing adult social care by 2025, just to maintain existing standards of care.
“We cannot duck this issue as a society any longer. Our green paper is the start of a nationwide public debate about the future of care for all adults, including unpaid carers, and how best to support their wellbeing and rescue the services caring for older and disabled people from collapse.”
Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy at Carers UK, said:
“We cannot emphasise enough how important breaks are for carers, many of whom have very substantial caring responsibilities and provide round the clock care. Carers telling their stories are exhausted, demoralised and have lost vital community connections because there is not enough good quality care for a break.
“Everyone needs a break and time to recharge their batteries. Not only is this a basic right, but the health impacts for carers are significant. It’s a false economy in the long term not to invest in breaks.
“We urgently need clarification of short term funding for social care and to provide breaks for carers before the situation worsens. And we need a long term funding settlement to secure the future of breaks for carers.”