THERE IS A “WIDENING GULF” between policy rhetoric on unpaid carers and the reality facing the millions of people providing informal care for a friend or family member, according to a new report detailing the diminishing Government support for carers in England.

In a comprehensive new analysis of carers policy in England, the Nuffield Trust think tank shows that, despite numerous Government proposals on improving support for carers and a likely rise in their numbers, there has been a 13,000 drop in the numbers of carers receiving direct support from their local authority, falling from 121,000 in 2015/16 to 108,000 in 2020/21. At the same time, respite and breaks for carers have dropped by 42 per cent and local authority funding for carers by 11 per cent.

To tackle this and shore up the bedrock of unpaid care worth billions of pounds underpinning the NHS and social care, the authors say that the new government must take immediate steps to improve the support available for carers and enhance their visibility in Whitehall.

The Nuffield Trust work draws on the latest available data on carers from official sources and a wide-ranging analysis of the policy proposals published by previous governments. It takes as its starting point the 2008 Carers Strategy, which set out plans to recognise and value carers and provide support to help them maintain a balance between their caring responsibilities and a life outside caring.

Key findings include:

  • Over the past six years the numbers of carers being assessed for local authority support has only grown by one per cent (from 386,605 in 2015/16 to 388,730 in 2020/21). Of those that were assessed, 13,000 fewer carers were in receipt of direct support, a drop of 11 per cent. Local authorities have instead been directing carers towards information, support and signposting to other services, which has grown by more than 36,000 between 2015/16 and 2020/21. Yet data shows many fewer carers finding it easy to access information.
  • Local authority gross expenditure on services for carers has fallen to £156 million, a drop of 11 per cent since 2015/16.
  • 24,000 fewer carers received ‘carer support involving the cared for person’ (such as day-or night sitting services and residential care) compared to six years ago – a decline of 42 per cent between 2015/16 and 2020/21.
  • Of the five strategic themes set out in the 2008 Carers strategy and 2018 Carers Action Plan, two (‘recognising and supporting carers’ and ‘employment and financial wellbeing’ were scored by the Nuffield Trust as red (evidence shows little or no progress) and the remaining three were scored amber (some progress is evident however this has been limited)

Commenting on the analysis, Nuffield Trust Senior Fellow Charlotte Paddison said: “Over the last decade and a half, politicians have talked the talk of supporting and recognising carers, with laudable policy statements and plans to support them. But our work reveals a widening gulf between this rhetoric and the reality facing unpaid carers. As we experience the biggest cost of living squeeze in living memory, the need to address this has never been more pressing.

“At the heart of this is a lack of accountability at the highest levels of government about who is responsible for success and failure, a paucity of robust data both on carers’ needs and on national and local support for them, and the near total invisibility of carers in wider policymaking.

“Given the crucial role that unpaid carers play in supporting our overstretched NHS and social care systems, it is imperative that the new G=government takes immediate steps to improve the plight of unpaid carers and raise their profile in wider public policy.”

The report makes a series of targeted recommendations, including: clearly identifying who is accountable at a Ministerial level for achieving success in better supporting unpaid carers, appointing a senior Director-level policy lead for carers within the Department of Health and Social Care, including carers in health inequalities impact assessments at a local level, and a drive for better linked data between social care and health care.

* Read: Falling short: How far have we come in improving support for unpaid carers in England? here.

* Source: The Nuffield Trust