Women over 50 can expect to spend nearly six years of their later life caring for a friend or relative, new figures show.
The Office for National Statistics estimated the average amount of life spent as an unpaid carer by analysing life expectancy and census data, which reveals women who reach 50 are likely to spend 5.9 years of the rest of their life as carers, while men spend a year less.
During the 2015/16 financial year, 8% of the UK’s private household population said they were “informal carers” for someone, according to government data and of those, nearly two thirds were women.
Charities slammed the findings as evidence of ‘a social care system on its knees’ and said society remains heavily reliant on people’s dedication to their loved ones.
Dominic Carter, senior policy officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “These figures show the incredible dependency society has on the hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers for people with dementia across the UK.
“They also demonstrate the inordinate and unfair strain they are put under to prop up the broken social care system. Without devoted relatives and friends, many of the most vulnerable people in society would miss out on vital care, and instead be at the mercy of a system on its knees.
“Years of cuts to social care budgets has led to our dementia care system facing the very real risk of collapse. The promised consultation on social care reform must deliver a long-term solution that creates a fair and transparent division of responsibility between government and the individual, and share the cost of care more equally across society.”
Carers UK, which lobbies for unpaid carers, said its own research shows 40% of unpaid carers have not had a break in the last year, while one in four had not had a single day off in five years.
Chief executive Heléna Herklots said: “People are living longer with multiple health issues and this is creating a demand for care and support that health and care services are failing to meet.
“The result is increased expectations on families and friends to step in to help. More and more of us are providing care for an older, disabled or ill loved one, yet even a few hours caring a week can result in having to cut down hours or give up work, bringing devastating and irreversible consequences for long term financial security.
“Carers tell us this is mainly due to the difficulty and exhaustion of juggling work and family responsibilities without the right support from local care services and employers.”
She said the latest ONS statistics were further proof that women are more likely to bear the burden of looking after someone - costing the general workforce valuable skills and experience - and has lobbied for better employment rights for carers.
When the right support from employers’ and local services is in place, it’s a triple win for carers, business and society,” she added.
“As our population ages, growing numbers of people will be juggling work and care, particularly in later life and society and public services must adapt to support them.”
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