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Huge rise in the number of unpaid carers during Covid-19

By: Philippa Harrington, On: 03 August 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a huge, sudden rise in the number of unpaid carers across the UK. New figures released to coincide with Carers Week (8th-14th June) reveal that as a result of the pandemic around 4.5 million people in the UK have entered into unpaid caring roles over the last few months. This is in addition to the 9.1 million who were already in unpaid caring roles prior to the outbreak, making a new total of 13.6 million. This figure represents over a fifth of the entire British population.

These new unpaid carers have mostly taken up roles caring for elderly or disabled relatives, but the number also includes those who are caring for friends, neighbours and other members of the community.

Charities say that this huge increase in numbers is as at least partly a result of support services being withdrawn. The 4.5 million increase is three times the size of the NHS workforce, which is already one of the world’s largest employers. Most of this unpaid care has taken place behind closed doors, with many new carers having to radically adjust their lives with little in the way of external support.

Gender gap

Large numbers of both sexes are engaged in unpaid caring work, but there is a significantly greater number of women undertaking these roles than men. 2.7 million of the 4.5 million new carers are women, representing 59%. Men make up the remaining 1.8 million or 41% of new carers. This reflects and strengthens an existing gender bias towards female unpaid carers.

A variety of roles

The new unpaid carers are undertaking a variety of roles. These are most typically support roles offered at a distance such as regular shopping, sorting out medicines, managing finances and offering extra emotional support and reassurance during the pandemic. A significant minority have taken on intensive caring roles such as preparing meals, help with movement around the house, hygiene and administering medication. Some moved in with their elderly or disabled relative at the beginning of lockdown, immediately becoming full-time carers.

2.8 million of those who have taken on caring roles during the pandemic are combining these roles with paid employment.

A united response

The six charities that commissioned the report – Motor Neurone Disease Association, Carers UK, Carers Trust, Rethink Mental Illness and Oxfam GB – and who support Carers Week are calling on the government to offer greater recognition of the critical role unpaid carers have already played during the pandemic. They have called for greater levels of support for unpaid carers through the pandemic and beyond. They argue that this should represent a key moment, when the vital role of unpaid carers to the economy and wider society is recognised and rewarded.

Public awareness

With such large numbers involved, most members of the public know someone who is undertaking a caring role. This is reflected in high levels of awareness about the difficulties that face carers, with the roles they play becoming more visible during the pandemic.

A survey of 4000 UK adults found a clear majority who thought that carers should receive more government support. 75% believed carers should receive better financial support, as well as greater investment in support and care services that enable carers to take a break. 48% of those surveyed who have never undertaken a caring role, said they were now more aware of the important role that carers play in their community. 69% said that they did not believe the government had offered enough support to carers during the pandemic.

A call for urgent action

The six Carers Week charities have united in calling for the government to deliver a plan for urgent social care reform, complete with an agenda for long term investment in support and care services. They have called for an immediate increase in Carer’s Allowance which is currently set at just £67.25 per week. Alongside an increase, they believe carers should receive a bonus coronavirus supplement that reflects the critical role they have played during the pandemic. Caring for vulnerable people at home has eased pressure on the NHS and social care sector during a period of increased demand.

As many temporary carers find themselves in permanent caring roles, the next few months could be critical. There’s clear public support for rewarding carers for their role during the pandemic, and growing concern that those carers should receive proper support going forward.

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