FAMILY and other loved ones are carrying out more than £160 billion worth of unpaid care every year in England and Wales.
The staggering value of the care they provide would be enough to fund a second NHS in the two countries.
New findings from Carers UK and the University of Sheffield show those looking after relatives or friends with a disability, illness, mental health condition, or needing extra help as they grow older, contribute £446 million to the economy every day.
Professor Matt Bennett, from the centre for care at the University of Sheffield, said: “Without unpaid carers, our health and social care systems would collapse.”
Despite increases to NHS funding over the last 10 years, increases to social care funding have not kept pace and the care system is now relying ever more heavily on unpaid carers to prop it up.
Providing increasing hours of unpaid care, family members have no choice but to give up work or reduce their hours to do so, also putting their physical and mental health needs to one side.
The findings show individual unpaid carers are providing more hours of care than they were 10 years ago. While the latest 2021 census data shows there are fewer carers in England and Wales than in 2011, the number of hours of care they provide has shot up – leading to their higher economic contribution.
Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said the situation was “deeply concerning”.
“The ever-declining availability of social care means there is shrinking support for families to pull on, and they are left without a choice but to put other areas of their life on hold and provide more care.
“Having to care round the clock for a loved one has significant implications for people’s ability to stay in paid work, remain financially resilient and maintain their health. Lacking adequate support, unpaid carers feel they are being taken for granted.
“The Government must show that it values and supports unpaid carers by investing in and delivering quality care services for families in the longer-term.
“Carers need a funded National Carers Strategy and recognition within the NHS. Hundreds of thousands of carers on low incomes are desperate to see their financial support urgently reviewed.”
Professor Bennett added: “We hope policy makers see the urgent need to act to support unpaid carers.”