My wife has various medical conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia which affects her every single day. I obviously do what I can to help and her mum also cares for her. Before my dad passed away, my mum had given up work and become his full-time carer. These aren’t salaried jobs and it’s done out of love. Up and down the country, families and friends of vulnerable people do amazing work which is the equivalent of full-time hours and get paid less than the minimum wage. Thanks to this, people get vital care and it saves the country millions.
There are respite care facilities out there, as well as care homes and paid-for professional carers. However, these things come at a cost. It’s something that many cannot afford, which means friends and family do the job.
Carers in the UK
Statistics about carers are imperfect, but at least they give us an idea of how many there are. The 2021 census tells us that approximately five million people provide care in England and Wales (5.7 million if you include Scotland and Northern Ireland). This figure could be much higher though, as the 2022 Carers Week report suggests there could be as many as 10.58 million.
The Office for National Statistics states that 1.5 million are doing at least 50 hours – way more than full-time work. In addition, the number providing at least 20 hours of care per week has increased since 2011. Some 1 in 7 people are doing both work and caregiving. Whilst there has been a reduction in care for lower numbers of hours, there are some explanations for that:
- Coronavirus guidance reduced travel and limited visits.
- Some people may have had multiple unpaid carers, but this was also reduced due to Covid-19 guidelines.
- The higher number of deaths of older people led to a reduced need for care.
- The wording of census questions changed between 2011 and 2021.
So, before the pandemic the figures could have been higher. If the pandemic had never occurred, the figures would be higher still. We could start to see more noticeable increases again in the future.
Using this tool, I identified several places where the number of carers in a population ranges from 5% to 9%. Depending on population size this can amount to a lot of people.
Carers allowance: then and now
1976 saw the introduction of the carer’s allowance. Research I conducted back in 2011 told me the following:
- The very first rate was £7.90. So, for all the work you do, per week you get paid much less than the value (at the time) of a Sinclair Cambridge pocket calculator.
- Between 1976 and 2011, the biggest single increase in the allowance was £3.05.
- The total increases under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were only 5p more than the total increases under Margaret Thatcher.
- The smallest increase by far in this period was 25p, in 1986.
Carers can get £76.75 today. It sounds so much better, doesn’t it? Well, it is in a way. However, if you’re one of those (approximately) 1.5 million carers who do 50 hours a week, that payment equates to £1.54 per hour. If you do the equivalent of a full-time job (37 hours per week), that still only equates to £2.07 per hour. Still no respect.
It gets worse though, because it’s clear that there’s not enough awareness about the allowance. In February 2021, the total number of claimants was 1.3 million. Some 370,000 people (the equivalent of 28% of claimants) are eligible but don’t receive payments.
Eligibility is something worth exploring though. Whilst working in local government, I’ve talked to a lot of people who aren’t aware of the financial support available. Therefore it’s safe to assume that there are people who aren’t aware of the benefits they can claim, which would make their carers eligible for carers allowance (e.g. personal independence payment or attendance allowance). The 370,000 figure could easily become much higher, if all those eligible were to claim.
The vital work of young carers
The Children’s Society knows of carers as young as five, but due to their hidden nature there could be a huge number who are even younger. Figures suggest there are 800,000 young carers in the country but, once again, there could be many more. The children’s commissioner recently did a survey of over half a million children and, sadly, only 6,000 were being supported by a young carers project. It’s possible that many young carers are being supported in some other way, but those numbers are truly shocking.
Young carers are 38% less likely to get a university degree and 27% of young carers aged 11 to 15 miss school. Also, when you consider that 1,771 are known to care for more than 50 hours, the levels of tiredness and effects on mental health must be devastating.
Surely it says something bad about the state of social care in this country that young carers are needed at all.
Anything from the government?
Thoughts and prayers. That’s all carers seem to get.
There was a Carer’s Action Plan in place from 2018 to 2020, but this was widely criticised. The Nuffield Trust showed that over a five-year period, there was an 11% drop in direct support for carers. That also matches a drop-in funding for carers from local authorities in the same period.
There was a recent debate about Carers Week in parliament and it’s really worth a read. Take this person’s experience, for example:
“After giving up a reasonable salaried job to care for my wife, we fell into severe financial hardship and were resorting to food banks. When the cost-of-living crisis happened, it was so bad I had to take up part-time taxi driving, which takes me away from my care role, in order to survive, but I can only earn so much due to the limits imposed or lose the carer’s allowance.”
Currently, it is hard to see an end to stories like these.
What should be done?
For me, the necessary action is quite clear. We need to have:
- A large-scale campaign to raise awareness about carer’s allowance, as well as information about the required benefits to make carers eligible;
- Vastly increased investment in local government services to provide direct support to carers, including respite;
- Increase the availability of temporary/backup carers. Without these, carers will not be able to benefit from any increase in respite;
- A significant increase in carer’s allowance, much more than what we’ve seen in previous years;
- Efforts made to get more accurate records of young carers, with each one being in a support project; and
- A strategy that sees us moving away from children as young as five doing more hours than a full-time job.
They need proper support and meaningful action – not just words.
We should actually care for the carers.