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Archbishop Welby backs Carers Week demand for national action

11 June 2024

Report estimates 1.5 million people provide unpaid care for more than 50 hours each week

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THE Archbishop of Canterbury has called for a society-wide shift in recognition and support for unpaid carers.

The Archbishop was responding on Monday, the first day of this year’s Carers Week campaign, to the report No Choice but to Care, published by the organisers of the week. Its recommendations include public investment in a national carers’ strategy for England and Wales.

“By attending to the needs of their relatives, neighbours or friends, unpaid carers point us towards the great aspiration of a society marked by service as love-in-action,” the Archbishop said on social media. “I know from my own experience of life and ministry that caring is both hard and life-giving. Children and young people are also often carers and need special support.

“When unpaid carers speak about the physical, mental and economic circumstances they face, we must do more than listen; we must act. We must honour their service with a society-wide shift in how we celebrate and support unpaid carers, which requires legislation from Government, flexibility from employers, and a renewed commitment from all of us as actively engaged citizens in our communities.”

The report estimates that 1.5 million people in England and Wales now provide unpaid care for more than 50 hours each week, collectively contributing £162 billion to the economy every year.

Carers Week is organised by Carers UK with Age UK, the Carers Trust, The Lewy Body Society, The ME Association, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Oxfam GB, and Rethink Mental Illness.

Providing unpaid care can be rewarding, the report says, but can also have significant negative impacts on carers’ lives. The low level of social-security benefits, inadequate structures to help carers to sustain paid work, and a lack of time to look after their own physical and mental health leave them less resilient on all fronts, with fewer opportunities to pursue a career. And younger unpaid carers often struggle to combine caring responsibilities with the demands of their education.

The report calls for significant action from the next UK and devolved governments to put in place a comprehensive package of support for unpaid carers.

In a YouGov Omnibus poll of 6472 UK adults, commissioned for Carers Week and conducted in April, about 1100 respondents (17 per cent) said that they were currently providing, or had previously provided, unpaid care in the UK. Of these carers, 62 per cent said that they had no choice in this, because no other care options were available. Weighed against UK population figures, Carers Week estimates this to be the case for about 10.1 million people. It estimates that there are currently 16.1 million current or former unpaid carers in the UK.

Unpaid care has a significant impact on mental and physical well-being, the report says.

Two-thirds of unpaid carers (63 per cent), said that the work had negatively affected their mental health. Of these, one quarter (24 per cent) said that the impact had been “very negative”. More than half (53 per cent) said that their physical health had been affected. Similar numbers reported that unpaid care had affected their job and the ability to work (48 per cent), their finances and savings (47 per cent), and their relationships (37 per cent).

Women were significantly more likely than men to be negatively affected in all categories, but particularly in employment. Older middle-aged people (45 to 54) were more likely to report that they had had to take on the unpaid-carer position because no other care options were available (70 per cent), compared with all other age groups. This group was also most likely to report a significant negative impact on their finances, career, and pensions.

Carers Week also commissioned a YouGov Political Omnibus poll of 4259 adults, in April, which found that almost three-quarters (73 per cent) wanted the next government to provide more support to unpaid carers. Financial support topped the list of what respondents wanted prioritised.

Chief of the recommendations in the report is the delivery of strategic cross-government action through a national carers’ strategy, to join up work between government departments and to “set a clear ambition to improve the lives of unpaid carers of all ages”.

This strategy, it says, “should be backed by significant investment, set out future commitments to supporting unpaid carers, identify specific actions that focus on delivering tangible progress and additional support for carers, including young carers, their families and those they care for”.

Among the case studies in the report is that of a daughter caring for her mother, who found it difficult to find an agency to provide the care required. She now uses a team of five to six private care workers, who come in three times a day, at a cost of £2500 a month, which is being taken from savings and pensions.

“The buck stops with me all the time,” she says. “A lot of attention goes on the person being cared for (and rightly so) but there have been times when I felt like saying, ‘Hello, I’m drowning.’ Until care is properly valued, paid, and viewed as something of worth, this is the situation we’re going to have.”

The report says that the pressures in the NHS often result in delays in obtaining healthcare appointments, and that record levels of demand for social-care services mean that many unpaid carers are not getting the support that they need.

A wife caring for her husband with reduced mobility, who has herself suffered a stroke, is quoted as saying: “It’s very hard to be a carer where you really need to care for yourself. Carers are being treated terribly. We are just left within our four walls to get on with it. The extra money we have to spend to get things done around the house that neither of us can physically do is going through the roof.”

Unpaid carers experience an average pay penalty of nearly £5000 per year, reaching nearly £8000 per year after six years. Carer’s allowance is also the lowest benefit of its kind, worth just £81.90 per week — a combination, the report says, which puts unpaid carers at a higher risk of poverty. More than one third (34 per cent) were cutting back on essentials such as food and heating in 2023, compared with 13 per cent in 2021.

The estimated one million young carers (under the age of 18) in the UK should also be considered, the report says. Almost 15,000 young carers across England and Wales are caring for more than 50 hours each week, it estimates. On average, it takes three years for a young carer to be identified for support — and some are waiting more than ten years.

The report concludes: “All of us have a 50-50 chance of providing unpaid care by the time we are 50 years old, and a two-in-three chance of providing care in our lifetime. However, for many of us, the role is unavoidable.”

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