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One in three older carers have felt overwhelmed because of the care and support they provide

Published on 15 March 2023 02:05 PM

One in three older carers have felt overwhelmed because of the care and support they provide 

Three in five older carers sometimes or always worry about whether they can keep caring or providing support 

Care and Support Alliance calls on the Chancellor to support social care in the Budget, including by increasing funding so unpaid carers of all ages can get a break 

“I care for my husband and have given up work twice now, also care for 95 year old mother. My life revolves around these responsibilities so have no life of my own or time to look after myself.” An older carer 

Research by Care and Support Alliance (CSA) member Age UK has found that one in three (35%) older carers have felt overwhelmed because of the care and support they provide. The same research also found that three in five (61%) older carers sometimes or always worry about whether they would be able to keep caring or providing support[i].

In the light of these and other recent research findings about social care the CSA has written to the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, asking him to take action to help social care in his Budget statement on March One of the three specific calls the coalition makes in the letter is for the Government to double the funding available for breaks for carers. 

The CSA says that the shortfall of social care services compared to growing demand from older and disabled people has left unpaid carers forced to fill the gap, placing them under unrelenting pressure. Most 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 deal with other issues in their lives, including looking after their own health and wellbeing.  

In the CSA’s view the failure to provide adequate support for carers is greatly increasing the risk of these informal care arrangements breaking down, in which case the responsibility of providing care usually falls wholly on the State. It is therefore a false economy, as well as being profoundly unfair to decent men and women of all ages who do the right thing and place their loved ones’ interests above their own by caring for them for free, saving the Treasury a small fortune in the process.  

According to recently released census data there are some 5 million people[ii] in the UK providing care for someone else and, although this is a slight decrease compared to a decade earlier - possibly for methodological reasons - these new statistics also show that the numbers caring intensively, for 50 hours or more a week, have gone up, and now stand at about one and a half million[iii]It is this substantial group who are essentially caring for a loved one full time who are most in need of the breathing space access to breaks would provide, the CSA says.  

Recent research from another CSA member, Carers UK, has also found that almost half (47%) of carers (of all ages) say they need more breaks or time off from their caring role; and two in five (41%) haven’t taken a break in the last twelve months. One in six (17%) say they have taken a break, but worryingly, this hasn’t been enough for them to look after their mental or physical health[iv].

As well as calling for more investment in carers’ breaks the CSA’s letter to the Chancellor also asks for a richly deserved pay rise for professional care staff, and for the social care means test to be made more generous, as proposed in the Government’s 2021 Social Care White Paper. The letter observes that Jeremy Hunt has the most developed understanding of social care, the benefits good care brings and the huge problems for individuals and their families and carers when it is not available, of anyone who has ever occupied the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer. The letter expresses the hope that he will draw on all that experience and insight to take decisive action to support social care in his Budget.  

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK and co-chair of the CSA said:

 ”Speaking as someone who cared for their own Mum for four years and was lucky to be very well supported, my heart goes out to all those who provide care for a partner, parent or other relative, but with no one to help share the responsibility and no prospect of a rest. Caring is an extraordinary experience that brings many rewards, but it is also incredibly taxing and it can absorb all your time and energy, leaving you feeling completely spent. It can also be very lonely. That’s why it’s so important that carers are offered breaks, giving them the chance to do something for themselves for once, such as reconnecting with friends, helping them to carry on. Without some regular breathing space there is a real risk that carers collapse under the pressure.   

“The whole social care system relies on the goodwill and unpaid labour of millions of dedicated families and friends, and it couldn’t possibly manage without them. We need to do right by these carers in return, but too many feel abandoned and left to manage really difficult situations alone. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that if you provide care for someone else, you can at least be confident of some regular time out to recharge your batteries, even if it’s just a few hours. Sadly, that’s not how it is for most carers at present, and it’s why we are imploring Jeremy Hunt, ‘the Health and Care Chancellor’, to double the Government’s funding for carers’ breaks.  

“Social care is crying out for a long-term programme of refinancing and reform and a good place to start is through the actions we recommend the Chancellor takes in his Budget. Certainly, reason for hope and more concrete support for unpaid carers must be at the heart of any initiative to improve social care.” 

Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy at Carers UK and co-chair of the CSA said: “It’s really shocking to see the shortage of social care having such a negative and, at times, traumatic impact on families who give up so much to provide care.  The simple answer is that we need more support from social care, particularly breaks. The investment that we’re urging the Chancellor to provide would be a boost for families, helping to support their wellbeing, quality of life and prevent some from having to give up work to care. Otherwise, families, public services and the economy will continue to count the costs of under-investment in social care.”

Unpaid carer Della, 56 and based in Cheshire, said: “After my husband James had a stroke three years ago, I gave up work in order to support him and I’ve been caring round the clock ever since with barely a minute spare. After years of waiting I finally have a care package in place but I cannot rely on it. I really need consistent support so that I can take a break and recuperate – the physical aspect of caring for my husband takes its toll. More funding in social care is desperately needed so that hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers like me can get a break.”

Comments from older carers about their experiences as part of Age UK’s research

  • “24/7 carer for my wife - unsupported by Social Services. Her needs are increasing all the time and I am getting no help. I am beginning to feel I cannot cope. No time for even my personal care.”
  • “Looking after my bedbound and immobile wife is a 24/7 responsibility. I don't do anything else. This has been the case for five years or more.”
  • “Cannot leave him alone even to visit my friends/lunch. No conversation because of the dementia.”
  • “I have to do more and more for him. I do get fed up at times as I can't leave him for more than an hour then he phones me asking when I'm coming home.”
  • “As an unpaid carer, my world has closed right down and I have lost the freedom to be able to go out and/or pursue my own interests because my husband cannot be left alone. I have become socially isolated and conversation with my husband is limited by his dementia and the fact that he sleeps so much of the time. I have to do virtually everything for him.”  
  • “I care for my husband and have given up work twice now, also care for 95 year old mother. My life revolves around these responsibilities so have no life if my own time to look after myself.”
  • “Being always on call. Don’t like being out too long.  Knowing things are only going to get worse.”
  • “Permanently watching over him. Has dizzy spells can fall so have to supervise. Have to drive him to shops social contacts and medical appointments. I feel very trapped by his condition so he must feel that too. Gradually getting worse, feeling very breathless.”
  • “It is hard to care for a close relative. One feels guilt, great fatigue, irritability and exasperation in continually answering the same questions, reassuring, trying to explain in a way she can best understand. “Demanding.  Stressful.  Feel isolated and on your own.”
  • “I care for my husband every day. This has totally put my own life on hold as most of the time I can’t do what I really would like to do.”
  • “I no longer have my life. My partner and I have become one. His needs supersede mine. I am carer, cook, cleaner, speech therapist, physio therapist and driver. I complete the forms for all his benefits and needs.”
  • “I find it exhausting and very stressful. I work full time too. There is no support locally, so the care provision is solely down to me.”

 Notes to Editors.

The Care Support Alliance (CSA) represents 70 of Britain’s leading charities campaigning alongside the millions of older people, disabled people and their carers who deserve decent care.

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Last updated: Mar 15 2023

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