Almost eight million people in the UK are acting as “informal carers”, meaning they are giving regular, ongoing assistance to another person without being paid for the care given, research shared exclusively with HuffPost UK suggests.
Under current legislation, members of the public can receive up to £62.70 per week in carer’s allowance if they care for someone at least 35 hours per week and the person cared for receives certain benefits, such as disability living allowance.
But a survey of 2,000 adults found 15% currently consider themselves to be informal carers, which equates to 7.85 million people across the country. These people do not meet the criteria to receive support, but on average, spend 13 hours a week taking on duties such as cooking, cleaning and caring for someone close to them.
More than half (53%) of informal carers surveyed said the role has had a significant impact on their emotional state, while just under one third (30%) have fallen out with friends and family because of tensions around their responsibilities.
The research was conducted by marketing research agency Opinium and commissioned by health start-up WeMa. For the purpose of the survey, an informal carer was defined as any person, such as a family member, friend or neighbour, who is giving regular, ongoing assistance to another person without payment.
Examples of care include sourcing healthcare and wellbeing services for an elderly relative, providing domestic services such as cleaning or shopping for a family member or friend unable to do it for themselves, or assisting someone to collect or take their medication.
Yessi Bello Perez, editor of UK Tech News, has been providing support for her father since he began chemotherapy treatment for cancer in August last year. The 29-year-old is thankful her employer has been flexible, but said juggling work and life as an informal carer is still “emotionally and physically draining”.
“At the moment, I spend one day a week working from home, which means I can care for my dad while ensuring I stay on top of my job responsibilities,” she told HuffPost UK. “While I’m one of the lucky ones, I do feel guilty about the time I spend away from my dad and have constant anxiety about making sure he’s okay and staying on top of work, and ensuring that I make myself available if and when I’m needed. I end up having to do quite a lot of overtime in the evenings, which is exhausting.”
Another informal carer, an entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous, told HuffPost UK that looking after his elderly grandfather can be “extremely difficult”. The 24-year-old becomes his grandfather’s primary carer whenever his parents are away on business, which involves taking his grandfather to hospital appointments, arranging for relatives to visit and “ensuring that all the appropriate care is being delivered”.
“The time you have to yourself becomes limited and often I find myself missing out on spending time with my friends and focusing on work,” he said. “But your desire to help this person takes priority over anything else and although it can be an often a difficult experience, I find that it also brings the family closer together. Overall, I would describe the experience as being emotional, tiring and difficult for everyone in the family who chips in to help, but also it is very rewarding knowing that loved one is better off.”
Neither of the individual’s HuffPost UK spoke to are not eligible for carers allowance as they complete fewer than 35 hours of care per week. But two fifths (39%) of the those surveyed said the financial burden of being an informal carer has prevented them from leading the lifestyle they want. Meanwhile, more than one third (35%) said they would pay for professionals to take on the carer duties but cannot afford to do so.
As a result of the significant disruption it causes to their lives, the overwhelming majority (77%) of informal carers said they believe the Government must do more to offer financial, emotional or educational support to informal carers across the UK.
Commenting on the findings a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “Carers are invaluable to support supporting their family and friends but their own needs must be a priority too – that’s why we changed the law to introduce better rights for carers. We know the social care system is under pressure due to our ageing population so we’ve given an extra £2 billion funding and will publish plans this summer to reform the system to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”