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Examining the cost of caring in 2022
Did you know that nationally, one in seven adults in the UK workforce are also juggling the provision of unpaid care for a family member or friend due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction? This translates to a huge number of hours of unpaid work and means that unpaid carers provide social care worth £132 billion a year, according to Carers UK.
If we look at this on a more local level for context, Newcastle upon Tyne has a population of 279,100 people, with 25,644 of them registered as providing unpaid care and support to family, friends and neighbours. Further to this, more than 7,000 of these 25,000 carers are providing more than 50 hours of unpaid care every week (Census 2011, ONS).
The impacts on carers
We also know from the ONS’ census analysis that people living in more deprived areas are more likely to spend higher numbers of hours per week providing unpaid care. This correlates with the risk of further deprivation and increases the risk of self-neglect, as carers are much less likely to seek medical help when needed than someone without this responsibility. (Report for the National Co-ordinating Centre for NHS Service Delivery and Organisation R & D (NCCSDO), 2003).
In fact, across the UK, carers providing unpaid care for more than 50 hours a week were twice as likely to be in poor health as non-carers in 2001 and, according to Carers UK’s latest analysis, “13.2% of carers caring for over 50 hours a week were in ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ health. This compares to 5.3% of people without caring responsibilities."
As well as the risk to carers’ health and wellbeing, caring can also have a detrimental effect on the future career prospects of those who take time out. Six hundred people give up working every day to support an older or disabled relative and, at £67.60, the Carer’s Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind.
Taking into account that half of working-age carers live in a household where no one is in paid work (often through illness), it’s not difficult to understand how 1.2 million carers are in poverty in the UK. Sadly, 39% of carers described their financial situation as "struggling to make ends meet" in Carers UK’s State of Caring Survey (2019).
Local Authorities, as part of their statutory duty to offer support to unpaid carers, also usually offer support to ‘returners’ (those whose caring responsibilities have ended and who may be looking to go back to work). This is to help them find a job or work opportunity, often working with independent charities to offer a fuller support package.
Advice and support to access benefits and local funding or seek help with debt and access any local funding are standard parts of this service, but many organisations also offer social groups and activities for carers and support with the emotional impact of providing care.
Returner support might also include support to access bereavement counselling (a carer’s responsibilities coming to an end is not always a cause for celebration) or benefits and housing advice and employability support.
Seeking support for carers
Caring can be lonely and overwhelming, and many people don’t want to talk about it with others. This might be because it’s hard to admit that things are tough, or because people worry about hurting the feelings of the person that they’re caring for by talking about how difficult things feel.
It can also be difficult for carers to see their caring role as distinct from their general relationship with the person that they’re caring for. The ’commissioning for carers’ section of the NHS website tells us that it takes an average of two years for people to acknowledge their role as a carer.
At a recent sharing event in Newcastle, young carers talked about their experiences so that professionals such as teachers, social care workers and social workers could better understand how they might be able to help those with caring roles. This might be through offering support with the care itself, or it could be as simple as asking how someone is rather than asking why they’re late. But all of these interventions rely on carers being identified, in order for reasonable adjustments and support to be put in place.
Carers UK’s ‘Let your GP know’ campaign aims to help with this. There’s special support available from primary care teams for those with caring responsibilities, including better access to appointment and home visits. This also gives better visibility of carers to other service providers and could act as a referral mechanism for more support.
If you’re a carer, or think you might be a carer but don’t know how to access support, your local authority should be able to point you in the right direction – but there’s also help available online (if you’d prefer not to talk to anyone) through Carers UK’s Upfront Guide to Caring, which uses a short quiz to signpost to individual information about benefits, entitlements and support.
If you’d like more general information about caring or are looking for ways you can improve the care that you provide, please contact your local carers association.
If you're interested in exploring caring as a career, NCFE offers over 80 qualifications in the Health and Social Care sector which you can explore.
For anyone working in care, health or education, you can also find best practice and resources on the CACHE Alumni website.