Comments are often made that we have become a 'less caring' society and that families are 'caring less'. However, the facts are in the opposite direction - families are caring more, not less, and that trend has been continuing over the last 20 years. The overall number of carers has increased by around 1 million over the past 15 years, from 5.8 million to an estimated 6.8 million. Over a decade, numbers of carers grew by 11% - far outstripping population growth.
But the real story lies in how much care people are providing, and that is where we've seen staggering change over the last 20 years. The number of carers providing over 50 hours of care per week has almost doubled, growing from 700,000 in 1985 - pre-community care reforms - to 1.4 million today. Rather than doing less, families are in fact doing much, much more than they ever have done. The prediction from Carers UK is that this will continue to rise to around 9 million by 2037 with significant consequences for our economy and families in the UK.
The reasons for the rise in family care is clear. It is not just about an ageing population and people living longer with disabilities, as the growth in family care exceeds this population growth. There are two reasons for this extra rise care - the first is the shift from institution-based care to the community where more input from family is often needed. The second is a significant a reduction in the amount of statutory care provided - the gap in social care funding has placed ever-increasing pressure on families to provide care.
Whilst families and close friends often wish to provide care, the consequences of doing so can be significant in terms of health, work, family and relationships and income. Around two million people have given up work to care, a large proportion of whom did so because of the shortage of good quality social care. Carers have lower pensions in retirement and continue to be an "at risk" group for pensions for the future. Carers have poorer health outcomes, and particularly mental health - caused by the stress of juggling responsibilities, compounded for many by a lack of a break and lack of sleep. Time and again we hear of carers breakdown due to lack of support and, often, this is a trigger for a move to emergency hospital care or admission to residential care.
In saying that families are doing less, not only ignores the huge value of care - a staggering £132 billion - but the huge personal and economic cost to carers. The Government is keen to keep skilled workers, raise productivity levels and remain a competitive nation in a global economy. They want people to have longer working lives to be able to provide for pensions into the future. These are all core goals for the future Industrial Strategy. However, Government will not meet these aspirations if it does not effectively recognise what families are doing now in caring for relatives who are disabled, ill and frail, or the support and rights base that carers need into the future. Government needs to clearly demonstrate its commitment to carers by setting out a firm plan of action into the future and providing us with a sustainable funding system for care.