By Janine Woodward-Grant, Deputy Chief Executive, Bath Carers’ Centre (www.banescarerscentre.org.uk)
Recent research conducted by Bath and North East Somerset Carers’ Centre has revealed a startling yet equally unsurprising picture as to the views and support of unpaid carers in this country. Of the 8,350 respon- dents who took part in the survey, a third (35 per cent) of people stated they claim to know an unpaid carer. Worryingly, just one in seven (15 per cent) say they could confidently spot the signs of when an unpaid carer might need help.
By definition, an unpaid carer is someone who cares for a friend or family member who needs help with daily life due to illness, disability, serious injury, mental health, or an addiction. They receive little financial renumeration and limited local authority support, yet their numbers are rising.
Indeed, according to Carers UK, more than one in eight adults in the UK are classified as an unpaid carer. But a combination of an ageing population and the recent pandemic have conspired to see the number of unpaid carers over the age of 65 years double since March 2020 to 4 million people. Of these, 780,000 were in their 80s, or above.
However, the spike in the number of unpaid carers aged above 65 years pales into insignificance when we consider that among the younger generation.
There are an estimated 800,000 young carers in the UK providing essential care for their families, a number which grew due to the lockdown restrictions prohibiting employed carers to visit other homes. So, while the numbers for young carers may be lower than those for their older counterparts, the impact of being an unpaid carer as a young person in later life is monumental.
Our research found that nearly half (45 per cent) of carers reported not having sufficient time to spend on school work, with 58 per cent feeling their education was suffering severely according to findings from the Children’s Legal Centre.
Anyone reading this will already know, but it is still worth reminding ourselves as to the extent to which becoming an unpaid carer has on individuals. Many unpaid carers work part-time or take time out of their employment for their caring responsibilities. Often, this results in a reduction in wages and restrictive career progression. This in turn has even more serious consequences such as limited funds available for every day staples, such as food, heating, medical supplies… the list goes on.
Furthermore, when asked if enough support is available for unpaid carers, our research found that eight in 10 (78 per cent) responded with ‘No.’ And the stats back this up. Carers UK has shown that unpaid carers save the economy £132 billion per year, while Carers’ Allowance, the main carer’s benefit, stands at just £67.25 for a minimum of 35 hours per week; this would barely cover a meal in a restaurant. The mis-match is palpable.
With such a large proportion of society either being an unpaid carer (knowingly or not) or knowing some- one who is, why are they either overlooked, unrecognised, or simply left out from conversation? This is a debate that will invariably continue for some time. But by raising greater awareness of the outstanding contribution that both unpaid and salaried carers alike make to society, there remains the possibility that positive change may come.
In the meantime, we encourage everyone who comes into contact with unpaid carers to help connect them to ours and similar organisations across the country who are here to provide information, advice and support and a vital sense of community. No unpaid carer should care alone.