Millions have become carers due to Covid crisis, new research finds
By Joe Gammie
Millions of people across the UK have become unpaid carers for loved ones due to the coronavirus outbreak, new figures have found.
Data released yesterday to mark the start of Carers Week estimated that 4.5 million more people are now caring for older, disabled or seriously ill family or friends as a result of the pandemic.
This is on top of 9.1 million people who were already caring for loved ones before the crisis erupted.
Six charities supporting Carers Week are now calling on the UK Government to deliver a plan for social care reform and set out long term investment in care and support services to give unpaid carers the opportunity to take breaks and stay in paid work if they want to.
The charities also want an increase in the UK Carer’s Allowance – currently £67.25 a week – and a “one-off coronavirus supplement” in recognition of the role unpaid carers have played in the pandemic and the significant costs associated with caring.
Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said the data showed the scale of the care being provided behind closed doors.
She added: “Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems.
“Yet many say they feel invisible and ignored.
“There are thousands caring round the clock without the practical support they would normally rely on to take a break, while others face increased costs accessing food and care products.
“The [UK] Government must not take unpaid carers for granted in this crisis.”
“It must ensure their physical and mental health is looked after and it is imperative that, moving out of the pandemic, the Government rebuilds our care system so that carers are supported and families have the services they need to live better lives.”
The six charities supporting Carers Week are Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Oxfam GB and Rethink Mental Illness.
The Carers Week’s research was based on a YouGov poll of 4,557 adults which found that 410 respondents had started giving unpaid support to someone since the coronavirus outbreak.
It also found that 774 people said they currently care for someone and had been doing so since before the pandemic.
Using Office for National Statistics (ONS) population data for 2019, Carers Week extrapolated that around 4.5 million adults have become unpaid carers since the start of the pandemic on top of around 9.1 million who were already caring.
Carers Week also estimates that 2.7 million women and 1.8 million men have started caring for relatives who are older, disabled or living with a physical or mental illness since the outbreak began.
This will often be helping with food shopping, collecting medicine, managing finances and providing reassurance and emotional support during the pandemic, it said.
But some will have taken on “intense caring roles” such as helping with tasks including personal care, administering medication and preparing meals, it added.
The poll found that around 70% of both unpaid carers and adults without caring responsibilities said managing the stress and responsibility of being an unpaid carer was or would be the top challenge when caring.
It also found that around two-thirds of people did not think that unpaid carers had been supported by the Government during the crisis and three-quarters thought it should increase support for unpaid carers.
Liz Kendall, UK shadow minister for social care, called for more support for family carers.
She said: “The essential role of family carers has received precious little attention during this pandemic so far.
Support has been desperately hard to access and many families feel overwhelmed and pushed to breaking point.
“Ministers must provide local authorities with the resources they need to support carers, including with proper information and advice. Carers must be also be priority for regular testing and PPE, particularly where they care for the most vulnerable. “