The increasing strain on unpaid carers is harming their health, jeopardising the care of people they care for, and putting the adult social care system at an increased risk of collapse, warn sector leaders.
The Local Government Association (LGA) and Carers UK have released new research, suggesting that rising demand for care services and the cost of providing the support is affecting families, putting more strain on unpaid carers and impacting their health and wellbeing.
The research says that, of the 5.7 million unpaid carers in England, many are unable to take a break from caring. It states that this is putting unpaid carers at an increased risk of also needing care and support. This position could result in the people being cared for requiring emergency health or social care.
This latest research shows that nearly three-quarters (72%) of carers in England have suffered mental ill health, such as stress and depression, while 61% have experienced physical ill health due to caring.
A fifth (20%) of carers responding to Carers UK’s State of Caring Survey have not received a carer’s assessment in the past year, despite the majority of them caring for well over 50 hours a week.
The LGA has estimated that it would cost £150m to provide these assessments which will help to identify carers' support needs. LGA says that this is more cost-effective than having to pay long-term costs for social care and emergency hospital care.
The LGA is calling for the cost of these assessments to be included in the long-term solution to funding adult social care and for the Government’s delayed green paper to provide support to lessen the strain on unpaid carers. It is also calling for sufficient funding to ensure services, such as carers’ breaks, are available to all carers who need them.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said, 'Unpaid carers are the backbone of the care system, many of whom are unable to take a break, putting their own health on the line. Without these unsung heroes the system would collapse.
'But this vital network of family carers is at an increasing risk of breaking down due to the nature of the job, rising costs and demands for care, and the crisis in adult social care funding.
'Carers need breaks. Devoting significant time to unpaid care can not only lead to a downturn in carers’ health, it can also make it hard for them to maintain social relationships, keep working or learning, which could affect their financial security.
'More people are caring for a loved one than ever before and councils remain committed to helping carers, but significantly reduced funding is making this difficult.
'Councils in England receive 1.8 million new requests for adult social care a year – the equivalent of nearly 5,000 a day - and there is a £3.5 billion funding gap facing adult social care by 2025, just to maintain existing standards of care.
'We cannot duck this issue as a society any longer. Our green paper is the start of a nationwide public debate about the future of care for all adults, including unpaid carers, and how best to support their wellbeing and rescue the services caring for older and disabled people from collapse.'
Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy at Carers UK, said:
'We cannot emphasise enough how important breaks are for carers, many of whom have very substantial caring responsibilities and provide round the clock care. Carers telling their stories are exhausted, demoralised and have lost vital community connections because there is not enough good quality care for a break.
'Everyone needs a break and time to recharge their batteries. Not only is this a basic right, but the health impacts for carers are significant. It’s a false economy in the long term not to invest in breaks.
'We urgently need clarification of short term funding for social care and to provide breaks for carers before the situation worsens. And we need a long term funding settlement to secure the future of breaks for carers.'
Independent Age has issued a comment on the research as George McNamara, Director of Policy at Independent Age, the older people’s charity, says, 'Carers up and down the country are propping up a failing social care system that has been starved of vital funding. Root and branch reform of social care cannot come too soon for carers who want to do all they can to support their family.
'Carers need recognition and support from local and national government. Our recent research found that three-quarters of the public want to see an entitlement to free personal care, which will provide vital care and additional support for carers. Introducing free personal care in England, which is already available to people over 65 in Scotland, will start to turn the tide on a social care system that currently isn’t meeting the needs of older people and their carers.'