Curtis-James Marshall, Senior Public Affairs and Media Officer, Future Care Capital

As Carers Week enters its final few days, I think we should take a moment to reflect on the campaign and the challenges ahead. It’s been a really positive and successful campaign this year, and the range of stories highlighting the commitment of unpaid carers to support friends and family has been a powerful reminder that more work needs to be done to make sure their voice continues to be heard.

The consortium of large charities, including Age UK and Carers UK, set out a thought provoking campaign theme around how communities can respond to their needs and help reduce the stress that is often part of the daily reality for an unpaid carer. A recent report released by the consortium highlighted some of the issues, which unearthed some interesting conclusions around public opinion and the future number of unpaid carers across the country.

The report found that an estimated 74% of the UK public think carers are not valued by society, whilst three in four carers don’t feel their caring role is understood or valued by their community. The significant demands on caring means that eventually one in five carers will have to give up work altogether in order to meet their care responsibilities. On any given day, 6,000 people will become carers, this week alone will see another 42,000 people become carers, equalling over 2 million people a year taking on a care responsibility of some degree and variation. [1]

For context, there are already an estimated 6.5 million carers [2], across the United Kingdom. That is one in eight adults – 10% of the entire United Kingdom population. Due to an increase in both the age and size of our population, as well as more complex long-term health conditions, this figure is set to rise to 9 million within the next twenty years. These statistics raise some important challenges for communities, local authorities who manage social care on the ground and overall government policy. We know that more and more unpaid carers are, in many cases, supporting loved ones and at times putting on hold their life ambitions. Their commitment is unparalleled in society. There clearly needs to be a more coordinated approach between the central and local government to deliver a better proposition for unpaid carers.

When we assess the current proposition open to carers it is important to understand their role.  A carer is somebody that looks after an individual (usually a friend or family member) with an illness or disability, perhaps having had an accident, or someone who has entered later life and often has limited mobility. Carers are also unpaid and the financial impact is a real issue. Caring can be brief, helping somebody that has just left hospital to get better, but it can also be an intense 24 hour a day commitment with little respite. If the right support is not in place for the carers themselves, evidence shows they fall into a trap of increased likelihood of ill health, poverty and social isolation, with a quarter eventually requiring medical treatment. More than half (54%) are struggling to pay household bills and over a third (35%) are cutting back on food or heating expenditure. [3]

When someone becomes a carer, it is usually unexpected and they are often ill prepared. It is very common for those with caring responsibilities to neglect their own needs whilst they care for a loved one. Although it may not be perceived as such, caring can be the hardest job somebody may experience in their lifetime, often taking a huge physical and emotional toll. The needs of carers are inextricably linked to the needs of those they care for. ‘Burnout’ is an all too common result of delivering care responsibilities and leads to more individuals needing respite support.

More needs to be done to recognise the financial and societal care challenges. Three in five people across the United Kingdom will become carers at some point in their lives, 58% being female and 42% being male, making an estimated economic contribution of £132 billion per year to the economy [1]. That’s an average of £19,336 per carer. It is almost the same as the annual spend on health by our National Health Service. [4]

Even with enormous sums of money being saved by this hidden army, carers are still often referred to as “informal” carers. This can lead to the perception that they are not appreciated, hugely undervalued and completely taken for granted. It is important to break down barriers and stereotypical perceptions – we all have our part to play in recognising carers contributions – businesses, government and care services alike.

One of the chief concerns for me is avoiding a carer cliff edge, the debate around what comes next once an individual’s care responsibilities end requires renewed thinking. At Future Care Capital, we have started to look at this and other issues faced by carers. Our plan is for the government to consider recognising carers more formally across the country, ensuring that carers receive the support they need to maintain a work-life-care balance. We are calling for a national ‘resilience and respite’ programme to be established to nurture and care for carers.

Making sure carers have a voice and supporting their needs is a priority for Future Care Capital. We look forward to working with other organisations to seek a change in policy at a local and national level so that carers vital contribution is further recognised.

If you are interested in our views on supporting carers, please also take a look at our General Election recommendations that we sent out to all political parties here.

References

[1] Building a carer friendly society report, research summary for Carers Week (June 2017) – accessible at: http://www.carersweek.org/images/CarersWeekResearchSummary_Unembargoed.pdf

[2] About Caring, Carers Week (June 2017) – accessible at: http://www.carersweek.org/about-us/about-caring

[3] Carer Friendly Communities, Carers Week (June 2017) – accessible at: http://www.carersweek.org/about-carer-friendly-communities/what-are-carer-friendly-communities

[4] “NHS net expenditure…[was] £117.229bn in 2015/16. Planned expenditure for 2016/17 is £120.611bn and £123.709bn for 2017/18.” Key statistics on the NHS, NHS Confederation (2nd June 2017) – accessible at: http://www.nhsconfed.org/resources/key-statistics-on-the-nhs