A Forgotten Army: Coping as a Carer
Unpaid carers are the backbone of our society who often go unrecognised for their dedication and compassion. They face a range of challenges as they attempt to juggle their work-life-care responsibilities. That’s why we decided to commission YouGov to conduct a UK-wide research project focused on identifying gaps in support and sought to understand the views of unpaid carers.
The impacts of loneliness, poor mental and physical health, financial worries and a lack of flexibility to learn or train are placing unpaid carers under increasing strain.
- Two thirds (64%) of carers were most likely to feel the effect of caring on their social life, causing loneliness, which most commonly manifested as a result of having less time to themselves (48%), socialising less (47%) and generally having less contact with others (41%).
- The next most common impact was mental ill health (49%). This included increased stress (42%), anxiety (33%) and depression (27%).
- Almost half (45%) mentioned impacts that caring had on their family life, most notably spending less time with family.
- Two in five carers reported an impact of caring on their physical health, most often mentioning tiredness (35%), trouble in sleeping (28%) and reduced fitness (20%).
- More than two in five (44%) unpaid carers noted the impact of caring on their financial situation. The qualitative phase of the research also revealed many hidden costs of caring, including paying for medical supplies and transport to and from appointments.
- Three in ten unpaid carers aged 16-34 said that their education or training had been affected.
When carers were asked about their support needs, a sizable majority (74%) of carers felt that further support in some form would be useful to them, with a common desire for emotional support (33%). Carers also sought information and advice about the support available, respite care, and finances. Our report also found that there was a need for advice about maintaining good mental and emotional health, shining a light on the often unexpected levels of stress, isolation and despondency felt by unpaid carers.
Our research has found growing concern amongst unpaid carers that their responsibilities are becoming increasingly difficult to manage. What is also striking is the difference in opinion about their future outlook – pessimism grows with the number of hours unpaid carers devote to caring each week. A key theme of our research is that unpaid carers feel forgotten whereas we believe they should feel they are a key part of their local community. We have a responsibility to recognise the contribution of unpaid carers and our recommendations offer a way forward with that in mind:
1. Convene a Carers Coalition: Identification, Signposting and Targeting of Information
Government should engage experts from all sectors to develop a new nationwide capability to help identify, invite consent from, then, signpost and target useful information in respect of unpaid carers. This would involve a coalition of public, private and third sector bodies acting in concert to ensure that useful and broad-ranging information; for example, financial advice, signposting to local support groups and help navigating the benefits system, is made available to the right people as and when required
2. Establish a Flexible Education Taskforce for Young Carers
A dedicated Taskforce should be established to explore the potential to introduce flexible and/or online educational provision to improve the life chances of young carers. Its members would need to review legal provisions concerning school attendance and potential issues with off-rolling in the first instance, but could also invite experts to make recommendations about the scope to make use of digital technology in this regard. Crucially, the Taskforce would need to ensure that any such provision would not serve to further isolate potential beneficiaries.
3. Training and Support
The Government’s adult social care Green Paper should include considerations around supporting carers’ work-life-care balance – helping carers to manage their work commitments whilst maintaining their caring responsibilities, as well as preventing them from falling behind from the point of view of career progression. The Department for Work and Pensions, acting with Further Education providers at a local level, could also offer new training pathways for unpaid carers to help them re-enter the labour market if or when their caring responsibilities are reduced
4. Tackling Hidden Costs
The Government could establish a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) fund to support carers transport costs. 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. The carers we engaged within the course of undertaking our research identified that travel to and from medical appointments is making their tight budgets even more stretched
5. Enhance the Rights of Unpaid Carers
The Government should look at new ways to prioritise the physical and mental health needs of unpaid carers. This might include committing to priority treatment for the most common mental and physical health issues developed in the course of undertaking a caring role. This recommendation could be included in the adult social care Green Paper to complement the Carers Action Plan’s drive towards personalisation of health and social care services. Early intervention may help to mitigate some of the issues identified in this report around depression, tiredness and back pain.