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New Census data sheds light on older, working and young carers

16 May 2013 by Emily Holzhausen

Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK

More figures from the 2011 Census are giving us a deeper understanding of the changes to our society and how carers are managing within that. Carers UK had to campaign for the question on carers to be included in the 2011 Census. It seems inconceiveable now when we have this set of data that we would not have this solid planning basis for national policy, practice and the law and locally where anyone plans and delivers services and support now and into the future.

More figures from the 2011 Census are giving us a deeper understanding of the changes to our society and how carers are managing within that. Carers UK had to campaign for the question on carers to be included in the 2011 Census. It seems inconceiveable now when we have this set of data that we would not have this solid planning basis for national policy, practice and the law and locally where anyone plans and delivers services and support now and into the future. The 2011 Census gives us a level of detail and comparable data in local areas that simply would not be available without it. With a rapidly ageing population and more people living with disabilities in our community, it is becoming ever more important that we respond to the challenges that result from this.

The 2011 Census shows a staggering increase of 35% of older carers in England and Wales against an overall rise of 11% across all age groups of carers. This surge in older carers in the last 10 years is therefore mainly of those who are likely to be caring for partners and far older parents into their 80s and beyond. Although Carers UK expected a rise in the number of older carers, the scale of the results is still surprising and we are now seeing the first generation of people who are devoting their “retirement” to caring. We have a duty to ensure that older people have the support to give them dignity and independence in their lives, as well as ensuring that family members who care for them are not pushed to breaking point.

Working age carers are still, by far, the biggest group of carers overall – with around 4.3 million carers aged between 19 and 64 compared with 1.3 million carers aged 65 and over across England and Wales. The numbers in work in England and Wales, however, are around 3 million – around 11% of the workforce . This also tells us that this leaves around 1.3 million carers who are not able to juggle work and care. 'Baby-boomer' women are the most affected, as the new figures show that 1 in 4 of women aged between 50 and 64 are carers.

Today’s news on the Census figures also show an increase in the number of older people who are working – and more of us will be required to do so as the state pension rises over the next few years. And this is where policy starts to collide with family life. We are expecting people to work for longer to provide for their state pension and more and yet we are seeing big rises in the numbers of older carers having to provide care. People struggle to do both and it takes a huge toll on their health and well-being.

You are most likely to be provide care if you are aged between 45 and 64 group where 22% of everyone in that age group is caring – most of them for a parent. Many of these carers of adults will also have children who continue to need their support – commonly referred to as “sandwich carers”. It is this juggling of multiple family responsibilities and work which takes its toll. Carers UK’s research into “sandwich carers” found that women are four times more likely to give up work for men – with devastating financial consequences in the short and longer term. There is still a strong gender gap in the statistics showing that women are more likely to be providing care (58%) and, if they are carers, are less likely to be in full time work.

The other group where there is growth is those of young carers under the age of 19 where we see a 19% increase according to the Children’s Society. Combined with their powerful research today which shows that young carers are less likely to be in work or further and higher education, there is a strong imperative to ensure that young carers have the same opportunity as others achieve. If the Government were to introduce the right amendments into the Care Bill and the Children and Families Bill both of which are passing through Parliament, this would make a big difference to those young people desperately needing our support as well as ensuring those children and young people had the same rights that are being given to adults.

The health statistics tell a more complicated story and are hard to compare over the last 10 years because the question in the 2011 Census changed. Instead of one in five carers providing over 50 hours care being in poor health (21%) in 2001, we now have 13% of carers providing over 50 hours care in “bad or very bad health”. Somehow, although the numbers are smaller, these figures seem worse because the measure is all the more extreme.

The 2011 Census continues to show that our society is a caring society, where the support provided by carers is staggering – worth around £119 billion across the UK. But that comes with considerable costs to their health, well-being and finances. With the population trends expected over the next few years, the statistics from the Office of National Statistics present a stark warning adding urgency to the work that needs to happen to keep families who care, healthy, well and in work if that is what they choose to do and if they don’t they need an adequate income on which to live.

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