New figures show the number of unpaid carers has increased by an estimated 4.5 million people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This 4.5 million does not include the 9.1 million unpaid carers who already had caring responsibilities before the outbreak, bringing the total number of unpaid carers to 13.6 million.
Of this number, 2.7 (59%) million are women and 1.8 million (41%) are men. Typically, they have been supporting loved ones from afar, helping with food shopping, collecting medicine, managing finances and providing reassurance and emotional support during the pandemic. However, some have taken on intense caring roles, helping with tasks such as personal care, moving around the home, administering medication and preparing meals.
2.8 million people (62%) who have started caring since the outbreak are also juggling paid work alongside their caring responsibilities, highlighting the need for working carers to be supported as they return to offices and work sites.
The figures representing the increase in the number of carers since COVID-19 have been released to coincide with Carers Week 2020. Six charities supporting Carers Week - Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Oxfam GB and Rethink Mental Illness – are calling on the UK Government to recognise and raise awareness of the role unpaid carers are playing during the pandemic and ensure they are supported through it, and beyond.
On behalf of the charities supporting Carers Week, Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said, 'Recognising the contribution of unpaid carers to our society and properly supporting them has never been more important than during this pandemic. An additional 4.5 million people are caring for sick, older or disabled loved ones – that’s the NHS workforce three times over. It demonstrates the scale of the care being provided behind closed doors, mostly hidden from view.
'Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems. Yet many say they feel invisible and ignored. There are thousands caring round the clock without the practical support they would normally rely on to take a break, while others face increased costs accessing food and care products.
'The Government must not take unpaid carers for granted in this crisis. It must ensure their physical and mental health is looked after and it is imperative that, moving out of the pandemic, the Government rebuilds our care system so that carers are supported and families have the services they need to live better lives.'
Polling of more than 4,000 members of the general public aged over 18 shows unpaid carers have become more visible within society since the pandemic began. There is a majority consensus for unpaid carers to receive more support from the Government than they do currently. Three quarters (75%) of those surveyed, who hadn't had caring responsibilities before, thought the Government should increase support for unpaid carers, such as better financial support as well as investment in care and support services so that carers can take a break.
The six Carers Week charities are calling on Government to urgently deliver a plan for social care reform and set out long term investment in care and support services. This would give unpaid carers the opportunity to take breaks from their caring role, and stay in paid work if they want to. The charities want to see an urgent rise in Carer's Allowance and a one-off coronavirus supplement, in recognition of the vital role unpaid carers have played in the pandemic and the significant costs associated with caring.