Age UK has highlighted the plight of unpaid older carers who shoulder an enormous amount of responsibility, often without the support they need and has called on Government to provide more support.
Research by Age UK has found that 1.3 million, 61% of older unpaid carers (age 65+) have felt unhappy or depressed. The same research also found that 1.5 million, some 70% of older unpaid carers, have felt under strain; 1.1 million, 55% of older unpaid carers live with a long-term illness or disability themselves; while 1.3 million, 62% of older unpaid carers have lost sleep due to worry. Finally, 640,000, 25% of older unpaid carers, have said they enjoy day-to-day activities less than usual, a clear demonstration of their diminished quality of life.
These findings have been released to coincide with Carers Week 2023 (5 – 11 June), the annual campaign to raise awareness of unpaid caring, highlight the challenges unpaid carers face and recognise the huge contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. Each year Carers Week also helps people who don’t think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers, the first step to accessing the support they may well need.
The funding shortfall in the care sector has left unpaid carers forced to fill the gap in formal services, placing many under unrelenting pressure. Most older people willingly take on the task of helping to care for a loved one – usually but not always a husband or wife – and don’t think of themselves as doing anything out of the ordinary. However, leaving older people to shoulder most or sometimes all of the responsibility and hard work of looking after someone in declining health and/or with significant care needs is just too much. It can also undermine these older family carers’ own health, and many of them are coping with their own health problems as the Charity’s analysis shows.
The failure to provide adequate support for carers is also increasing the risk of these informal care arrangements breaking down, in which case the responsibility of providing care usually falls wholly on the State. The Charity says this is a false economy, as well as being profoundly unfair to men and women of all ages who do the right thing and place their loved ones’ interests above their own by caring for them for free, saving the Government a lot of money in the process.
16% of people aged 65+ in the UK are unpaid carers, equivalent to 2 million people, while 13% of people aged 80+ in the UK are also unpaid carers, equivalent to 440,000 people. As well as calling for more investment in social care, Age UK wants to see unpaid older carers given more opportunities for respite breaks and access to other kinds of practical and emotional support, in recognition of their fantastic contributions to families and communities.
“We are living in the worst of two worlds in England”
”Our new analysis has found that considerable numbers of highly committed older people are caring for someone, in the process juggling not only the physical and mental health of their loved one, but often their own too. This is a lot to cope with and although many older people take on their unpaid caring responsibilities willingly, we shouldn’t expect them to manage without support. Yet all too often that’s the reality, especially if they don’t have family and friends to help them out.
“Caring is an extraordinary experience that brings many rewards, but it is also incredibly taxing and it can absorb all your time and energy. It can also be very lonely. That’s why it’s so important that carers are offered breaks, giving them the chance to do something for themselves for once, such as reconnecting with friends, thereby helping them to carry on. Without a regular breathing space there is a risk that unpaid carers collapse under the pressure, leaving both them and the person they love in a crisis situation.
“The whole social care system relies on the goodwill and unpaid labour of millions of dedicated families and friends. It couldn’t possibly manage without them, yet objectively we do remarkably little to support them. It’s not just the lack of respite breaks that’s the problem, it’s also the financial penalty of becoming an unpaid carer, which is really marked and leaves some people’s retirement plans in ruins.
“Arguably we are living in the worst of all worlds at present in England, in that we neither recognise and compensate unpaid carers properly on the one hand, nor ensure the provision of enough effective formal care services on the other. This leaves people of all ages who need social care, and those who love them, in a really horrible position. But this week, Carer’s Week, is the time in the year when we should focus on the unpaid carers in our society above all, and, we hope, commit to doing better by them in future.
“With the next General Election just starting to loom into view on the horizon and with so many unpaid carers working their socks off every day, we hope that politicians on all sides will look afresh at what they are prepared to do to help them.”