Baroness Pitkeathley: The needs of family carers must be at the forefront of policy makers' minds
It makes sound economic, as well as moral, good sense to meet the needs of the growing number of carers, says Baroness Pitkeathley.
The number of people providing unpaid care across the UK is increasing rapidly.
Though the last census in 2011 said that there were 6.3 million adult carers in the UK- that is 1 in 8 adults, more recent estimates suggest the number of carers in potentially 8.6 million- 1 in 6 of the population.
Moreover the number of older carers- themselves over 65, has grown from 1.4 million to over 2 million- a 43% increase from 2011 to 2019.
The reasons for this rise are well known.
People are living longer and many more of them have long term conditions which increase the need for care and for decades there has been a policy of care in the community, which often means care by the community which in turn is usually a member of your family, a neighbour or a friend.
But publicly funded care and support services have not kept pace with the growing demand.
According to the LGA between 2010 and 2020 councils will have lost more than 60 p in every £ from the government and predict a funding gap of £8 billion by 2025.
How is this gap to be filled? By the unpaid contribution of the people who do not usually refer to themselves as carers but a daughters, sons, husbands, wives.
The expectation that we will care for our loved ones is alive and well in the UK but care is often given at huge personal cost.
72% of carers say they have suffered mental ill health as result of caring.
61% say they have suffered physical ill health and over a third saying that caring means they struggle to make ends meet financially. Because many carers give up paid employment because of their caring responsibilities they may also be storing up longer term financial worries through loss of opportunity to build up a pension or to save for their own old age.
Much progress has been made in recent years with recognising the contribution of carers and they have legal rights to assessments of their own needs and to services which enable them to continue caring. But if the services are not there and increasingly they are not, we risk losing this unpaid army who provide care worth more financially than the NHS itself £132 billion at the last estimate.
Most carers ask for very little- an occasional afternoon off, an unbroken night’s sleep, someone to help with washing their loved one or changing the bed.
Their needs must be at the forefront of policy makers minds when the long expected proposals on reform of social care finally emerge.
It makes sound economic, as well as moral, good sense to meet the needs of the growing number of carers. Almost everyone of us will be a carer at some time in our lives.
We would do well to remember that.
Baroness Pitkeathley is a Labour member of the House of Lords.