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1.2m unpaid carers aged 50+ say their health has deteriorated over the last 12 months

Published on 22 November 2023 10:08 AM

1.2m unpaid carers aged 50+ say their health has deteriorated over the last 12 months, according to new Age UK research.

“It's draining, exhausting and like holding back the tide.  You're alone, abandoned, invisible and unappreciated.”  Unpaid older carer  

Age UK calls for the Chancellor to help unpaid carers by supporting social care in the Autumn Statement - with a multi-year settlement that genuinely reflects increases in demand, inflationary cost pressures and the crisis in the care workforce.

On the morning of the Autumn Statement, new research released by Age UK lays bare the toll on unpaid carers from the shortfall of social care services, as demand continues to grow and outstrip supply.  Most unpaid carers support their loved ones willingly, but they cannot be expected to do everything for them unaided, without any additional support, and without any prospect of some time to themselves to rest and live their own lives, including looking after their own health and wellbeing.  

Early results of Age UK’s latest annual Health & Care polling are devastating[i] [ii]- showing that the health of 1.2m carers (31%) aged 50 and over has deteriorated over the last 12 months with 2.1m carers (55%) saying that they were not confident that their health would improve in the future. Worryingly, 1.5m carers, equivalent to three in five (39%) said that their health condition had got worse, with 1.7m, well over two fifths (43%) saying they are in more physical pain.  

15% of the people aged 50 and over who responded to our polling said that they were unpaid carers providing care for someone else. Age UK estimates this to be equivalent to around 3.9 million people.  

Sadly, many carers have little hope for the future, with almost half 1.8m (47%) saying they expect the amount of care or support they provide to remain at its current level, rather than it being possible for them to share more of the load with formal care services. As other statistics presented here show, this is a depressingly realistic assessment, unless Government investment markedly increases so more care services can be provided.  Almost three in five (57%), equivalent to 2.2m carers across England, had felt tired because of the care or support they provide.  

Almost 9 out 10 of unpaid carers (86%), equivalent to 3.3m across England, worry about whether they will be able to keep caring or providing support. 

  1. Almost half (48%), equivalent to 1.9m carers across England had felt anxious because of the care or support they provide.  
  2. More than a third (34%), equivalent to 1.3m of carers across England, had felt overwhelmed because of the care or support they provide.
  3. More than a fifth (21%), equivalent to 830,000 of carers across England, had felt lonely because of the care or support they provide.
  4. Over a half of carers 51%, equivalent to 2m, have not been sleeping well.   

 These findings highlight the enormous challenges unpaid carers face and the huge contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK. 

Local authorities are reporting a significant funding gap as ongoing cost and demand pressures mean the cost of delivering existing services will exceed core budgets by £2bn this year and by £900 million in 2025/25[iii] – this following more than a decade of funding cuts. Between 2009/10 and 2019/20 central government grants were cut by 40% in real terms, before seeing a modest recovery in 2020/21 and 2021/22 (although that also included a range of time limited funding associated with the pandemic). However, despite increases in council tax and other local revenue, total council revenue remains 10% lower than at the start of the previous decade[iv].  The latest analysis from ADASS[v] shows at least a third of adult social care leaders in England need to find another £83.7 million of cuts as we head into winter, on top of the £806 million in savings directors across England committed to make in their budgets this year. This new ADASS research also reports that there are 470,000 people in England currently waiting either for care, a direct payment or for their care needs to be assessed.  

The long-term shortfall in care funding leaves many unpaid carers with no choice but to try to fill the gap in formal services, placing many under huge pressure. Most willingly take on the task of helping to care for a loved one – usually but not always a husband or wife – and don’t think of themselves as doing anything out of the ordinary. However, leaving them to shoulder most or sometimes all of the responsibility and hard work of supporting someone with deteriorating health and/or with significant care needs is sometimes simply too much. This is particularly the case for unpaid carers in mid-life who are bringing up a family as well as caring for ageing parents, and for older carers who are caring for a partner, relative or friend, while also coping with their own health conditions.   

The failure to provide proper ongoing support for unpaid carers is undoubtedly increasing the risk of these informal care arrangements breaking down, in which case the responsibility of providing care usually falls wholly on the State. Age UK says this is a false economy, as well as being unfair to good people who are committed to looking after their loved ones and who generously put their interests above their own by caring for them for free, saving the Government many millions of pounds in the process.   

Over the course of a five-year period between 2017/18 and 2021/22 the number of people aged over 65 receiving long term care services each year reduced by more than 36,000. Taking into account changes in the population over that time, this equates to a 10% cut in long term care provision, meaning that increasing numbers of older people with care needs are being left to fund support themselves, or rely on loved ones to help.    

This is why in the Autumn Statement Age UK is calling for a multi-year settlement for social care that genuinely reflects increases in demand, inflationary cost pressures and the need to tackle the crisis in care staff recruitment and retention. More respite care and support for unpaid carers is also urgently required.   

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:  

”We know that many older people are carers and managing not only the physical and mental ill-health of their loved one, but often their own too. This is a lot to cope with and although most older people take on their unpaid caring responsibilities willingly, we shouldn’t take their kindness for granted and expect them to manage without any support. Yet all too often that’s the reality, especially if they don’t have family and friends as back-up.  

“Caring brings many rewards, but it is also incredibly taxing and it can absorb all your time and energy. It can also be very lonely. That’s why it’s so important that carers get some time off, giving them the chance to do something for themselves, such as reconnecting with friends. Without a regular breathing space there is a big risk that unpaid carers collapse under the strain, leaving both them and the person they love in crisis.  

“The whole social care system relies on the goodwill and unpaid labour of millions of dedicated families and friends. It couldn’t possibly manage without them, yet as a society we do far too little to support them. It’s not just the lack of respite breaks that’s the problem, it’s also our failure to compensate people for the financial cost of becoming an unpaid carer if they have to scale down paid work or stop it altogether.  

“We sincerely hope that the Chancellor will recognise the central importance of social care to millions of older and disabled people in his Autumn Statement and take action to help. We are calling on the Government to commit to an adequate, multi-year funding settlement to respond to the multiple pressures bearing down on social care. This would be the best early Christmas present our unpaid carers of all ages could receive, and a fitting recognition of their extraordinary contributions in millions of homes and communities across the land.”   

 “Unpaid carers of all ages are used to warm words from politicians, but these are no substitute for properly funded policies that enable social care to keep pace with rising demand, reducing the pressures on them as individuals to fill an increasingly unbridgeable gap.”  

What carers have told us is heartbreaking. When we asked carers themselves how they were feeling[vi]

Expecting care to increase: 

“My husband has prostate cancer, chronic leukaemia, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and we are awaiting results of memory assessment for dementia.  I now do everything in and around the home, hospital and medical appointments etc.  the future does not hold much hope if in think about it, so I don’t.”  

On accessing social care.  

“I have elderly parents (80s), father has dementia, mother has heart failure, I have contacted adult social care for their needs and been told it’s 17 weeks waiting list, I doubt my father will be alive then, he’s deteriorated this week, no longer able to, walk, toilet, eat, talk, such a rapid decline, he also has bladder cancer, receiving ongoing treatment, which was cancelled for 2 years due to covid, so is behind with treatment. I feel under so much pressure to help them, I still work full time and find it difficult to fit everything in. I’ve spoken to my mum today about getting carers in to help, I’ll try Age UK.” 

Deteriorating health   

“My mother, she has dementia, it is very frustrating, her moods are so up and down she can be very aggressive, no one wants to help with her, she has been visited by social services but no help offered, I suffer from Atrial fibrillation and my mother can set off an attack if she is having a bad day, it is so stressful.” 

Worried about being able to carry on caring: 

“I am caring for mother aged 101. She has carers 4 times a day, but I cook, clean, shop & deal with everything for her. I’m exhausted most of the time, chasing up things because people don’t do their jobs properly. So many mistakes are made. I’m 74 & suffer from fibromyalgia, so find it difficult to look after my mum as well as myself. My life is restricted by my caring duties but there’s no way I could put her in a home. I’m stressed & worried a lot of the time, and dread the next phone call.” 

“As the weeks go by it’s becoming more and more harder as I am myself 90 in December.” 


“It is stressful and exhausting because I don't have the energy or time to do all I need to do” 


“I care for my husband who has mobility and slight cognitive impairment issues. This means I have total responsibility for everything in our lives. This is stressful and does impact my mental health.” 

“It has completely changed my life. Our world has shrunk. I have to take all responsibility for everything. I have to do everything. I have to watch hubby almost constantly to keep him & us safe.”  


“I'm always on edge, night and day!   

“I care for elderly father who lives 25 miles away. Make meals, freeze them and take them to him. Cook fresh meal, do cleaning and laundry when I visit. Often have to assist with toileting when there. Visit once or twice a week. Reduces my own leisure time and causes anxiety. Also talk to him on the phone several times a day. Take phone to bed in case if emergency during the night which affects sleep and increases fatigue.” 


It's draining, exhausting and like holding back the tide.  You're alone abandoned, invisible and unappreciated.” 

Notes to Editors


[i] Age UK Polling, undertaken by Kantar using a self-completion online survey, 7th-21st September 2023. The total number of people aged 50 years and over polled was 2621. Kantar uses robust methods to ensure that their sample is representative of the UK population aged 50+.

[ii] 15% of the people aged 50 and over who responded to our survey said that they were unpaid carers providing care for someone else Age UK estimate this to be equivalent to around 3.9 million people.




[vi] Quotes come from Age UK’s annual Health and Care of Older People survey, conducted via Survey Monkey online between 7th and 28th September 2023. 17,088 people aged 50+ responded to the survey.

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Last updated: Nov 22 2023

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