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Unpaid carers save the UK £132 billion a year – the cost of a second NHS

12 November 2015

Today, a new report1 from Carers UK and the University of Sheffield reveals that the 6.8 million2 people who provide unpaid care for a disabled, seriously-ill or older loved one in the UK save the state £132 billion a year – close to the cost of a second NHS.3  

The report, Valuing Carers 2015 – the rising value of carers’ support, is the third in a series looking at the value of carers’ support to the UK economy. It shows a staggering increase in the value of carers’ support since 2001, almost doubling from £68 billion to £132 billion.4 Researchers attribute this rise to a dramatic increase in the number of hours people are caring for, combined with an increase in the cost of replacement care.5

In light of today’s report, Carers UK’s Chief Executive Heléna Herklots has warned:

“If even a small percentage of people were unable to continue caring, the economic impact would be catastrophic. Worryingly, we are edging towards this possibility, as the pressure on families to provide more care with less support is intensifying.”

This warning comes as Carers UK calls for better financial support for carers and an increased investment in social care services ahead of the Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Today’s report reveals that more people are caring for a loved one than ever before. Since 2001, the carer population has grown by 16.5% to 6.8 million; vastly outstripping the growth of the general population during this same period (6.2%).

Not only are more people caring, but they are caring for longer. Since 2001, the number of people providing 20-49 hours of care a week has increased by 43% and those providing 50 hours of care or more a week has increased by a third (33%).

The number of people needing care, and those needing care for longer periods of time, has increased significantly since 2001. There are now 431,000 more people aged over 85 and 1.6 million more people living with a long-term illness than in 2001. However, as the UK’s population continues to age, local authority support services are in decline.

Indeed, today’s report highlights that the amount of home care provided by local authorities in the UK has fallen by 4.3% from 2011-2014, and recent estimates put the total funding gap between those needing care and shrinking local authority budgets at £700million a year.6 As a result, families are increasingly stepping in to fill the gap.

Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:  

“Caring will touch all of our lives at some point, yet society and public services still haven’t grasped the extent to which our economy relies on the unpaid care provided by family and friends. If even a small percentage of people were unable to continue caring, the economic impact would be catastrophic.
“As more people are caring for longer, they are doing so against a backdrop of cuts to social security and local care services. At a time when carers should be getting more support, they are in fact getting less. This is not only unacceptable but dangerously unsustainable. If carers aren’t supported to care well for both themselves and their loved ones, the NHS and other public services would be forced to step in. With NHS and local authority budgets already stretched to their limits, this would bring them to their knees.
“This must be a wake-up call for national and local government ahead of the Treasury’s Spending Review. The Government has helped to establish new rights for carers and has also committed to publishing a new Carers Strategy by the end of next year. But this will be undermined if the Spending Review does not recognise the vital contribution carers make, and can continue to make, to society by improving financial support for carers and investing in vital social care services.”

Sue Yeandle, Professor of Sociology at the University of Sheffield and Director of CIRCLE (Centre for International Research on care, Labour and Equalities) co-authored the report. Professor Yeandle said:

“It is vital to recognise the true scale of carer support. In estimating the value of care, we are able to highlight the importance of the contribution that carers make, unpaid, to our society and our economy.
“There are more people caring for a loved one, and more people needing care, than ever before. This increase has occurred in the context of large reductions to home care services in recent years, raising serious concerns about whether the services families need to help them care well and have a life alongside caring will be there in the future. Carers are doing more than ever to support others; we must ensure that they get the support and recognition they need and deserve.”

The report outlines a number of key recommendations from Carers UK ahead of the Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review on 25 November. These include:

  • Urgently address the chronic underfunding of the social care system
    The pressure on carers to provide greater levels of care with reducing levels of support is unsustainable. A lack of adequate, sufficient or affordable care services to back-up families and enable them to have a life of their own alongside caring is pushing them to breaking point. Also, the future health of the NHS depends on a properly funded social care system.
  • Improve financial support for carers
    Nearly half of carers providing the greatest levels of support have told Carers UK that they are struggling to make ends meet. The Government must set out a clear strategy for improving carers’ incomes and this must form a key part of the new cross-Government Carers Strategy.
  • Promote a carer-friendly NHS
    A new stream of work to make the NHS more responsive to the needs of carers, such as introducing annual health checks or Carers Passports, is imperative to promoting the health of carers and enabling them to provide care without putting their own health at risk.
  • Introduce a right to paid care leave
    Nearly half of carers are in work but many struggle with the strain of juggling work and care.  As demand for care continues to increase and the state retirement age rises, the dual pressure of balancing care and work is becoming a reality for more and more people. Carers UK is calling for a mandatory period of paid care leave of 5-10 days so that carers can juggle their caring responsibilities without it impacting negatively on their employment and, therefore, their financial security.
  • Stimulate a diverse care market to give carers better choice and flexibility
    Far from replacing family care, strong social care support enables families and close friends to care while remaining part of the labour market, generating revenue for Government while securing their own long term financial security.

Media contact

Spokespeople and case studies are available on request.

For media enquiries, please contact:

  • Lisa Gilbert, Senior Media and Case Study Officer, Carers UK
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 020 7378 4937 / 07534 630 667 (out of hours)
  • Chloe Wright, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Carers UK
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 020 7378 4942 / 07534 487 027 (out of hours)
Notes to editor

1 Valuing Carers 2015 – the rising value of carers’ support [2015] University of Sheffield, University of Leeds and CIRCLE, published by Carers UK

2 The figure of 6.8 million carers is based on the latest official estimate of the UK population (2012-based Subnational Population Projections [2014] ONS, National Records of Scotland, Welsh Assembly Government and NISRA). The most recent Census carried out in 2011 put the number of unpaid carers in the UK at 6.5 million.

3 Public expenditure on health services for the 2014-15 financial year is £134.1bn. Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2015 [July 2015] HM Treasury

4 The value of carers support in 2001 was £57bn (Without Us? [2002] Carers UK); the value of carers’ support from 2001 has been re-calculated to be £68bn (Valuing Carers 2015)

5 The unit cost of replacement care in 2015 is £17.20/hour; increased from £17/hour in 2011 and £11.40/hour in 2001 (Personal social services expenditure and unit costs, final report, England: 2013 to 2014 [2014] ONS)

6 A shared commitment: Local government and the Spending Review [2015] Local Government Association

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