1.2m older unpaid carers say their health has deteriorated over the last 12 months

“It’s draining, exhausting and like holding back the tide.  You’re alone, abandoned, invisible and unappreciated.”

1.2m unpaid carers aged 50+ say their health has deteriorated over the last 12 months, according to new Age UK research.

Released on the morning of the Autumn Statement, the new research lays bare the toll on unpaid carers from the shortfall of social care services, as demand continues to grow and outstrip supply.  Most unpaid carers support their loved ones willingly, but they cannot be expected to do everything for them unaided, without any additional support, and without any prospect of some time to themselves to rest and live their own lives, including looking after their own health and wellbeing.  

Early results of Age UK’s latest annual Health & Care polling are devastating – showing that the health of 1.2m carers (31%) aged 50 and over has deteriorated over the last 12 months with 2.1m carers (55%) saying that they were not confident that their health would improve in the future. Worryingly, 1.5m carers, equivalent to three in five (39%) said that their health condition had got worse, with 1.7m, well over two fifths (43%) saying they are in more physical pain.  

15% of the people aged 50 and over who responded to our polling said that they were unpaid carers providing care for someone else. Age UK estimates this to be equivalent to around 3.9 million people.  

Sadly, many carers have little hope for the future, with almost half 1.8m (47%) saying they expect the amount of care or support they provide to remain at its current level, rather than it being possible for them to share more of the load with formal care services. As other statistics presented here show, this is a depressingly realistic assessment, unless Government investment markedly increases so more care services can be provided.  Almost three in five (57%), equivalent to 2.2m carers across England, had felt tired because of the care or support they provide.  

Almost 9 out 10 of unpaid carers (86%), equivalent to 3.3m across England, worry about whether they will be able to keep caring or providing support. 

• Almost half (48%), equivalent to 1.9m carers across England had felt anxious because of the care or support they provide.  

• More than a third (34%), equivalent to 1.3m of carers across England, had felt overwhelmed because of the care or support they provide.

• More than a fifth (21%), equivalent to 830,000 of carers across England, had felt lonely because of the care or support they provide.

• Over a half of carers 51%, equivalent to 2m, have not been sleeping well.   
 These findings highlight the enormous challenges unpaid carers face and the huge contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. 

Local authorities are reporting a significant funding gap as ongoing cost and demand pressures mean the cost of delivering existing services will exceed core budgets by £2bn this year and by £900 million in 2025/25 – this following more than a decade of funding cuts. Between 2009/10 and 2019/20 central government grants were cut by 40% in real terms, before seeing a modest recovery in 2020/21 and 2021/22 (although that also included a range of time limited funding associated with the pandemic). However, despite increases in council tax and other local revenue, total council revenue remains 10% lower than at the start of the previous decade.  

The latest analysis from ADASS shows at least a third of adult social care leaders in England need to find another £83.7 million of cuts as we head into winter, on top of the £806 million in savings directors across England committed to make in their budgets this year. This new ADASS research also reports that there are 470,000 people in England currently waiting either for care, a direct payment or for their care needs to be assessed.  

The long-term shortfall in care funding leaves many unpaid carers with no choice but to try to fill the gap in formal services, placing many under huge pressure. Most 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 them to shoulder most or sometimes all of the responsibility and hard work of supporting someone with deteriorating health and/or with significant care needs is sometimes simply too much. This is particularly the case for unpaid carers in mid-life who are bringing up a family as well as caring for ageing parents, and for older carers who are caring for a partner, relative or friend, while also coping with their own health conditions.   

The failure to provide proper ongoing support for unpaid carers is undoubtedly increasing the risk of these informal care arrangements breaking down, in which case the responsibility of providing care usually falls wholly on the State. Age UK says this is a false economy, as well as being unfair to good people who are committed to looking after their loved ones and who generously put their interests above their own by caring for them for free, saving the Government many millions of pounds in the process.   

Over the course of a five-year period between 2017/18 and 2021/22 the number of people aged over 65 receiving long term care services each year reduced by more than 36,000. Taking into account changes in the population over that time, this equates to a 10% cut in long term care provision, meaning that increasing numbers of older people with care needs are being left to fund support themselves, or rely on loved ones to help.    

Ahead of the Autumn Statement Age UK called for a multi-year settlement for social care that genuinely reflects increases in demand, inflationary cost pressures and the need to tackle the crisis in care staff recruitment and retention. More respite care and support for unpaid carers is also urgently required. 

None of which was delivered in the Autumn Statement.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:  “With this Autumn Statement the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has gone from hero to zero on social care. Last year we applauded him when he ordered a significant increase in funding to keep services from collapsing but this year, despite clear warnings from local government about the likelihood of further cuts to care, he has offered nothing. And what’s more, even though the rise in minimum wage is thoroughly welcome and deserved, without additional funding the cost of providing, or buying social care, will be going up.

 “Unpaid carers of all ages are used to warm words from politicians, but these are no substitute for properly funded policies that enable social care to keep pace with rising demand, reducing the pressures on them as individuals to fill an increasingly unbridgeable gap.”  

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