There are now 7.6 million people in the UK acting as ‘informal carers’ - giving regular and ongoing assistance to another person without being paid - and a new report has found the burden is falling disproportionately on women.
HuffPost UK revealed in February the number of carers stands at almost eight million, and the Social Market Foundation (SMF) has now found 59% of those caring for an elderly relative (and 65% caring for a sick or disabled child) are women.
The number of female carers has risen by 700,000 since 2005 from 3.75 to 4.45 million.
Although we know a rise in the number of people requiring care is a burden on both genders, it is weighing on the shoulders of women more frequently. Today 16.5% of women provide family care, compared to 15% across both genders. Experts are concerned that this is having an impact on women’s career and financial prospects.
In order to qualify for the government carer’s allowance (of £62.70 per week) you have to be caring for a minimum of 35 hours and although more people than ever are providing 20 hours a week (this jumped from 24 to 28%) the average is still 19.5 hours meaning they are unpaid for their contributions.
Most are likely compromising on their career in order to do so: SMF says carers are more likely to work less than those without caring responsibilities and carers earn as much as 13% less per hour than non-carers.
“We know carers are often driven to reduce their hours or leave work altogether and without proper support,” says economist Kathryn Petrie. “There is a risk that women are increasingly driven out of professional careers, reversing recent progress towards equality in the workforce.”
There is a risk that women are increasingly driven out of professional careers..'
Yessi Bello Perez, 29, a tech editor from London, has been providing support for her father since he began chemotherapy treatment for cancer in August last year. She spends one day a week working from home.
Although she is grateful her employer has been flexible she has found juggling her career and caring “emotionally and physically draining”, not to mention she ends up doing lots of overtime in the evening to keep up.
“It is exhausting,” she says. “Without better support for family carers, significant numbers of women will end up being driven out of the professional and managerial occupations, potentially reversing recent trends.”
“A failure to support working carers could lead to a reduction in the number of women in these roles.”
It isn’t just women in the UK either, as Alzheimer’s Disease International has said they also see a gender imbalance in the number of informal carers, with women contributing 71% of informal care hours, compared to 29% by male carers.
The amount of informal care provided to people with dementia is equivalent to 40 million full time workers, all providing care for no income.
“Certainly they deserve our grateful thanks, but that’s not enough,” says Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK. “Many informal carers are losing out in terms of their work, finances and health. This is not only unfair but it is also unsustainable.”
“The informal carers whom we meet at Age UK are usually deeply committed, but they also often tell us that they are completely exhausted. Not only do they need more opportunities to take a break, they also require the back up of a reliable, effective social care system.”
And a dramatic rise in the number of people relying on relatives in the UK is expected. Over the next 20 years, it is forecast that the number of older people receiving informal care will rise by more than 60% according to SMF.
Abrahams says that the only way to address this is a “big injection of funding” by the government, and an “ambitious” government Green Paper that looks at the longer term plans for social care.