Carers save the country £119bn a year


Carers save the country £119bn a year

UK’s 6 million carers make ‘massive contribution’ to society but are struggling as services and benefits are cut


Sherry Pugh and Terry Nichols and their sons. William has cerebral palsy and needs round the clock care. They work alternate shifts, so someone is always there for William.

Carers who look after relatives or friends are saving the nation £119bn a year, or almost as much as the entire cost of the NHS, according to the latest calculation by researchers.

The figure, equivalent to £13.6m every hour, represents the value of the contribution of the estimated 6.4 million informal carers when priced at the official unit cost of home care by paid workers, £18 an hour.

As well as coming close to total NHS expenditure, the £119bn is three times the defence budget. It has risen almost 40% since 2007, when the value of carers was put at £87bn, a sign of the growing number of people who are taking on caring responsibilities.

Imelda Redmond, chief executive of the charity Carers UK, says: “Our society and public services could not function without the massive contribution made by over 6 million carers in the UK. This contribution is something we can be proud of as a country, and demonstrates how strong our families and communities are.”

The first estimate of the value of carers was made in 1984, but the first comparable figure, in 1989, put their contribution at £24bn.

The new calculation, by Carers UK and academics at the University of Leeds, reassesses the number of carers by applying 2001 census data to official population projections for 2011. This produces increases of 10% in carer numbers in England, 12% in Northern Ireland and 8% in Wales and Scotland.

In addition, the figure used in the calculation for the cost of paid home care has risen 24% from £14 an hour in 2007.

Redmond says the ageing population is making caring a fact of life for every family. But many carers are struggling with little or no help, or are facing cuts in the services and benefits they rely on.

“Unless we urgently rethink how our society supports carers, we will see increasing numbers pushed to breaking point – forced out of work and into poverty, ill-health and isolation,” Redmond says.

Carers UK is calling for a review of the carer’s allowance, which is paid at a rate of £55.55 a week to people who act as carers for at least 35 hours a week, and is urging the government and local councils to think again about planned cuts to disability benefits or social care services.

Research for the BBC suggests that a north/south divide is opening up on adult social care spending in England. Whereas councils in the north and the Midlands are cutting spending this year by an average 4.7%, those in the south are increasing it by 2.7%, a survey of 73 councils suggests.