A Forgotten Army: Coping as a Carer

22nd July 2019 about a 5 minute read

As part of Independent Age’s Pounds, Shillings and Pensions blog series

There are between 6.3-8.8 million people across the UK who look after someone close to them who cannot cope without their support. These carers amount to at least one in every ten in the population. The care they provide is unpaid and many of these carers don’t see themselves as such, not regarding their relationship as separate to the care they give. On average, it takes two years for a carer to acknowledge their role.

Not all carers are older, but many of them are – over a quarter of them are aged 65 years or over.[1] 400,000 of these were aged 80+[2] – this number is set to double in the next 10-15 years.[3]

Under increasing amounts of pressure in all areas of their life, our report entitled A Forgotten Army: Coping as a Carer[4] focuses on identifying gaps in support for carers whilst seeking to understand their views first-hand, highlighting the significant impact of being a carer and its far-reaching consequences. When interviewing one of the carers, they described themselves as being part of a forgotten army – they are a key part of our communities and should be regarded as such.

Carers contribute significantly to the UK economy[5] – the NHS has acknowledged this contribution, saying that it was “critical and underappreciated…not only to loved ones, neighbours and friends, but to the very sustainability of the NHS in England”. However, with continually reduced local authority budgets leaving providers barely able to sustain their statutory duties, reliance upon carers is increasing as fewer people receive formal care support. Leaving older people to take on too much, or all the caring responsibilities of somebody in declining health and with significant care needs, is unfair and unsustainable.

A vicious financial cycle?

An estimated 25% of carers are retired and 22% are economically inactive.[6] The inability to work because of caring responsibilities leads to more financial pressure on the carer and their family. For those carers who have left their place of work in order to take up a caring role, the loss of skills and confidence over time can hinder the chances of getting back into employment should they relinquish their caring duties.[7] Their financial situation can in turn affect the health of the carer as they may not be able to do some of the things that many of us take for granted – buy new clothes, heat the house, pay a bus fare and, in some cases, eat regular meals.

For those carers that do get back into employment, they often work part-time or reduced hours in order to manage their caring responsibilities.

What of future demand?

There are growing concerns that there may not be enough carers to meet future demand. This is largely due to demographic changes, including more women in work, fewer children being born, and a higher divorce rate amongst men aged 65+ – but it is also due to the challenges facing carers.

Older carers are more likely to say that they notice the spending increase associated with being a carer, and there are significant financial costs when becoming a carer, including home adaptations. Carers are more likely than not to borrow money or use their savings as a result of caring – including re-mortgaging their home, downsizing to a smaller property, borrowing from somebody close, or using an overdraft. It has also been estimated that carers would need to be compensated by between £190-357 per week (almost £1500 a month) in order to reach the same standard of living as a non-carer.[8]

Tackling the hidden costs of care

In our report, Future Care Capital makes a recommendation on how to tackle some of the hidden costs of care – one way could be for the Government to establish a fund to support carers’ transport costs. We propose that a per annum transport payment or top-up could be allocated to help carers budget over a longer period of time and help reduce the administrative burden of managing such support. This financial assistance would be in addition to Carer’s Allowance.

New longer-term funding mechanisms such as this could save carers from having to cover costs out of their own pocket, especially if they are no longer working or retired. The forthcoming Green Paper on social care is the perfect opportunity to really address the needs of those receiving care as well as those impacted by a caring responsibility.

Around three in five (60%) of us will become a carer at some point in our lives – so following on from Carers’ Week in June, we want to build on the good work that organisations like Carers UK and Carers Trust do. We all need to recognise that everyone in society has their part to play in supporting an unpaid carer they know, as this group of people are more important than they are given credit for and we couldn’t possibly function without them.

To read the original blog and the rest in the series, click here.