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Research: The forgotten families in lockdown: unpaid carers close to burnout during Covid-19 crisis

23 April 2020
  • Reduced or closed care services mean family members are picking up even more care for older, sick or disabled relatives
  • Carers tell charity they feel ‘overwhelmed’ and are at risk of burning out
  • Carers UK calls for Government recognition of unpaid carers’ efforts during pandemic and increase to Carer’s Allowance

A staggering 70% of unpaid carers in the UK are having to provide more care for their loved ones during the coronavirus outbreak.

A third (35%) of them are providing more care because their local care and support services have been reduced or closed.

A survey by the national charity Carers UK of nearly 5,000 unpaid carers showed that, on average, carers are picking up an additional 10 hours of unpaid care per week, helping loved ones with personal care, practical tasks and emotional support.

Reduced care and support services, and paid care workers isolating or without personal protective equipment (PPE), mean many carers have no choice but to care round the clock for loved ones with complex health conditions and disabilities - without any hope of a break.

More than half (55%) of unpaid carers told the charity they feel overwhelmed managing their caring responsibilities during the outbreak and are worried about burning out in the coming weeks.

87% of carers said they are worried about what will happen to the people they care for if they have to self-isolate or become ill.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“Unpaid carers are fighting the same battle as care staff and many of our NHS workers: yet they do it behind closed doors and with far less recognition.

“Unlike our fantastic frontline workers they are unable to clock off from their caring responsibilities. Many are overwhelmed and incredibly anxious about how they will manage in the weeks ahead.

“Unpaid carers are just as vital in the national effort to keep vulnerable people safe yet many fear that continuing to care around the clock will lead to them burning out.

“Carers tell us they feel ignored and invisible in this epidemic. The Government must ensure their physical and emotional well-being is supported at this challenging time and monitor the impact of the reduction in care services on carers.”

Before coronavirus, social care services were already in short supply and those families with support met a high threshold to get any form of care. Now, some of those services have disappeared and unpaid carers are having to cope alone.

Mike, 59, from Devon who cares for his wife Lynda who has multiple sclerosis, said:

“Despite the complexity of my wife’s condition we’ve mostly managed ourselves, but Lynda would have hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Exeter and physiotherapy in Barnstaple. I used to look forward to those few hours a week as they allowed me to recharge my batteries, have some time to myself knowing she was in the hands of professionals. Now I am on duty all the time psychologically and it is absolutely draining.”

Carers UK is calling on Government to acknowledge the huge efforts of unpaid carers protecting vulnerable people during this epidemic. Carers desperately want paid care staff to have better access to testing and personal protective equipment, as well as wanting access themselves, so they can keep the people they care for safe.

The new research shows 81% of carers are having to spend more money during the outbreak. The top increases in expenditure include spending more on food (72%) – due to lack of supermarket delivery slots and need for specialist food - and household bills (50%). 1 in 10 are spending more on equipment for the person they care for.

The charity is urging Government to increase Carer’s Allowance – the main benefit for people caring unpaid for 35 hours or more each week, just £67.25 a week - to recognise the crucial role they are playing in the country’s fight back against coronavirus. 

Helen Walker added:

“The financial penalty of caring for someone is so much bigger at the moment, with the vast majority of unpaid carers spending more on food and household bills on top of what they already contribute towards care costs, installing adaptions in the home and increased fuel bills.

“It is simply unacceptable that Carer’s Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind when unpaid carers contribute so much and at a significant cost to their own finances. The Government should raise it.

“This crisis needs to be a turning point in how we as a society treat carers. Going forward, Government must invest in the care and support families so desperately need.”

Read our report, Caring behind closed doors: forgotten families in the coronavirus outbreak.

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