The hidden army of carers

Support Some 6.5m people described themselves as carers in the last Census

The state of the NHS and social care system is never far from the headlines.

There are 1.4m people working for the health service and a similar number staffing care homes and providing vital home help. But these figures are dwarfed by a hidden workforce - the UK's army of carers.

Some 6.5m people identified themselves as carers in the last Census - that's one in eight adults in the UK. Over the next 20 years that number is expected to grow to 9m.

Some of these people are just providing a few hours care a week for someone, but significant numbers are doing much more - and according to new research need greater help.

Over 40% report having to reduce the amount they work to care, while 1.4m provide over 50 hours of unpaid care a week. The "full-time carers" are the biggest growing group in the carers' army.

Of course, it is easy to assume this is a natural part of the life-cycle. As loved ones grow older and frailer many would say it is quite right that those close to them help.

Indeed, that is the approach many carers take themselves. I recently interviewed a woman called Wendy Prosser, who is in her 70s and cares for her husband who has been left with mobility issues following a brain tumour.

He needs round-the-clock help. But Ms Prosser refuses to feel sorry for herself.

She told me: "This is what I have got to do. The NHS saved Neil's life.

"It gave us eight years we would not have had otherwise so it is my responsibility to look after him. I'm never going to let or expect anyone to help us. That wouldn't be right."


Caring can involve anything from help washing and dressing to looking after people with dementia.

However, there are signs the burden on carers is unsustainable. The ageing population means there is a growing number of elderly carers.

A nation of carers


carers in the UK

  • 38% increase expected in their number by 2034

  • 1.4m provide 50 hours of unpaid care per week

  • £119bn estimated amount carers save the UK economy per year


Nearly 1.3m people over the age of 65 are carers - a rise of over a third since 2001, according to Carers UK.

What is more, many carers report that their responsibilities place a physical, mental and financial burden on them. A survey commissioned for Carers Week this week shows that only a third feel they get enough support.

Depression is a common problem with 61% reporting they have struggled with the condition. Half also say they are losing out financially.

Heléna Herklots, the chief executive of Carers UK, says the survey should act as a "wake-up call".

"As a society we need a much wider understanding of the realities of caring," she says.

This matters on both a societal and individual level. The support provided by carers is worth in excess of £100bn, according to estimates.

That is a staggering sum that takes into account both the cost for social care and the NHS, which granted are notoriously difficult to estimate.

Nonetheless, you can bet the pressures on the health and care services would be far greater than they currently are without these carers.

And on an individual level, it is fair to say all of us have a stake in how carers are supported. Why? Six in 10 are will become one at some point, while most of the rest will need the help of one.

Nick Triggle Article written by Nick Triggle Nick Triggle Health correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Oh so BBC. Even by their standards as professional purveyors of "compassion" this is too much. Caring for the carers indeed. Well then who is going to care for those caring for the carers.

    Never mind all this "caring". Who is going to pay. The country is broke. .

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Only the London liberal socialists could turn caring for those that have cared for you into a minimum wage job.
    Tories would let carers stay unpaid & ignored if they could. Many are trapped in poverty because their caring responsibilities make getting a job impossible. Sadly we have a Government that would rather cut taxes for the rich than do the right thing by child carers

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    Silly question, of course carers are abused and especially young children whose schooling & futures suffer. I wish HYS allowed more words to properly answer this question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    #87 I moved to find a job in the area I work in. What I do, I could not do closer to my parents.

    Are you suggesting that no one should be allowed to move more than a few miles from their parents so that they can take care of them? I think that requiring people only to live and work in their local area was last tried in England around the 14th Century

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    I am a carer for my disabled son, who is tube fed, cannot swallow, walk or talk, and life is hard. He needs constant round the clock care often requiring suctioning. We receive 14 nights respite care a year at a children's hospice, but I love him to pieces and would not have it any other way. He is happy, and who better to look after him than a mum who adores and idolises him. Carers are dedicated

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Only the London liberal socialists could turn caring for those that have cared for you into a minimum wage job. The price of everything, the value of nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    In what way are they hidden? They are constantly in the news, often as a result of some catastrophic dereliction of duty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    This country hates old people and young people

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    There are honourable carers like family who look after their vulnerable relatives, and there are zero-hour carers who face unemployment after 2 years non-contract regardless of how involved and caring they become. Then there are huge corporate owned empires which actually get paid handsomely for looking after the vulnerable and regularly make the news when avoidable tragedy strikes - again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Vampires need a stake through their heart, or in this case don't vote for the same Elitists and expect won't happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Chose to care for my severely disabled, brain injured partner, having met him pro his accident; he can't do a thing for himself. I expected the same support I used to give my clients/carers as an LD nurse but in recent yrs this isn't an option.
    Everything is a battle and professionals haven't a clue about our situation. No carers allowance as state pension is now classed as a benefit. Not valued!

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Are we caring for your carers - NO

    How do I know this, because Cameron now insists that everyone pays their own NI in order to get a state pension. That means if you give up your time for nothing to care for a family member you are worth nothing in the eyes of this government. Follow the money, see where it goes and you see inside the minds of short sighted politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Most of these carers are simply family members who should care for their family anyway. They do all over the world. But in order to get the British to do it you have to pay them and give them a job title. Liberal socialism driving down values yet again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    When is a carer not a carer? Try and get the allowance and you'll find out. A friend can't work except in the early morning when her disabled husband is at his 'best' and has to have a job where she can leave if he has a turn. Her only choice has been a cleaner for the elderly through an agency paying minimum wage. She can then usually juggle times and days. Not eligible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    All my life I remember elderly relatives living with me from 3 until I left home at 18. My parents were very traditional in terms of caring for our own. The rewards were priceless. My homework was fun, weekends were full of games and there was always music playing. Christmas was fantastic and what I miss the most was conversation, it didn't matter what the time or subject there was always an ear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Our friends child has a severe learning disability.
    The tories have reduced their benefits,shut his day centre,reduced their respite etc.
    They say at times they feel like dumping him at aed,24 hr staffed accommodation would cost the state dearly,how cruel our these lot.We will remember them in 2015 and vote them out.
    These people are decent people,not scum as the tories treat them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Looked after my Mum, who suffered with Parkinson's for ten years - had precisely nil help from my "family", who were swift to move when she died. It is not just having to look after the ill person, but that it takes so many other things away from you too, notably proper work and a social life. It makes me sick to see these rellies, who just want to dump ill granny and grab the house.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    There is no help for family who look after a relative. My Mother in Law has Alzheimer's the hospital has written her of she is 91 years old. She lives in a warden control flat. Her clothes are dirty she forgets to wash them. She won't let me wash them. I went to see the warden all she said was she is not harming anyone wearing dirty cloth. God give me strength.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Its a growing problem. Medical advances mean ever more people are surviving illnesses and accidents which in the past they would have died of, often in a state where they can't care for themselves.

    Add that to the trend for people to have 1 child in their 40s, the offspring often will not have got their own career and family under way before the parents are needing help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Be in hospital for a time and there is nothing hidden about what keeps the NHS going. Its the doctors and nurses Not the administrators !!


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