Research into the wellbeing of 'sandwich carers' has found that more than one in four report symptoms of mental ill-health.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that almost 27% of sandwich carers show symptoms of mental ill-health while caring for their own children as well as their older relatives.
A sandwich carer is someone who cares for both sick, disabled or older relatives and dependent children. According to ONS, they are more likely to report symptoms of mental ill-health, feel less satisfied with life, and struggle financially compared with the general population.
With life expectancy increasing and women having their first child at an older age, around 3% of the UK general population, equivalent to more than 1.3 million people, now have this twin responsibility.
The mental wellbeing of sandwich carers worsens with the amount of care given, according to the data. More than 33% of those providing at least 20 hours of adult care per week reported symptoms of mental ill-health, compared with 23% of those providing fewer than five hours each week . People providing fewer than five hours of adult care each week reported slightly higher levels of life and health satisfaction, relative to the general population.
Those providing between 10 and 19 hours of adult care per week were least satisfied, even compared with those giving at least 20 hours each week. ONS suggests this could be because 69% of carers in the 10- to 19-hour category are in work (either employed or self-employed), compared with 41% of those providing at least 20 hours a week.
Similarly, many sandwich carers are not satisfied with the amount of leisure time they have. Those looking after their relative in their own home – half of whom provide at least 20 hours of adult care per week – are least satisfied.
Overall, around 61% of the general population are happy with the amount of leisure time they get, compared with 47% of sandwich carers looking after their relative outside the home and 38% of those providing care within their own home. As well as reporting a lack of leisure time, 41% of sandwich carers looking after a relative within their home say they’re unable to work at all or as much as they’d like.
Women sandwich carers – who account for 68% of those providing at least 20 hours of adult care per week – are more likely to feel restricted than men. Around 46% of women feel unable to work at all or as much as they’d like, compared with 35% of men.
Women sandwich carers are also much more likely to be economically inactive than men – 28% are not part of the labour market, compared with just 10% of men in the same situation.
However, ONS says that the majority of sandwich carers are able to balance their job with caring responsibilities. More than 59% of those providing care at home say this does not prevent paid employment.
One in three sandwich carers say they are 'just about getting by' financially, while one in ten are 'finding it difficult' or 'very difficult' to cope.
Meanwhile, only 17% say they are 'living comfortably', compared with 32% of the general population.
The full data set can be downloaded on the ONS website.