NEW ACADEMIC RESEARCH shows the large numbers of people in the UK starting or ending an unpaid caring role each year. Analysis of data from 2010 to 2020 by the University of Sheffield’s Centre for Care found that on average,12,000 people in the UK become an unpaid carer every single day – roughly 84,000 each week.

In a year, more than 4.3 million people in the UK become unpaid carers. Similarly, 4 million people stop their unpaid caring roles every year.

Of those 4.3 million starting caring roles for older, disabled or seriously ill relatives, more than 1.9 million people are in paid employment.  2.3 million new carers are women and 2 million are men.

Carers UK, which published the research, says the analysis underlines the growing need for unpaid carers as a group to be identified and supported within society – by the NHS, social care, employers and businesses as well as in the broader community.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “With our ageing population and loved ones with disabilities living longer – coupled with an ever-greater focus on care being provided at home – it is no surprise that millions of people are taking on an unpaid caring role every year.

“Most carers would call themselves a loving partner, parent or child, and do not immediately identify their caring role – meaning many miss out on practical support as a result. Our research shows that 51 per cent of carers took longer than a year to identify themselves as a carer – with some going on to care for many years – decades, even – without support.

“All the evidence shows that having an unpaid caring role means you are more likely to experience poorer health and weaker financial resilience. It is therefore imperative that we have a National Carers Strategy in place, and carers are fast-tracked to the support they need to carry out their caring role by being routinely identified within the NHS, social care settings and by employers. Given the cost-of-living crisis, a tight labour market and the pressures on health and social care, there are benefits for every sector in making this happen as well as huge benefits for families themselves.”

Carers UK is calling for a step change in the way that carers are identified across society to ensure they get the practical or financial support they need. The charity wants to see the NHS routinely and systematically identify unpaid carers and signpost them to support, to improve their health and wellbeing. It is also critical that employers raise awareness of caring, introduce measures which identify carers in their workforce and provide flexibility, to support more carers to continue working.

Professor Matt Bennett, Deputy Director Centre for Care, said: “This research shows how dynamic unpaid care is in the UK. While headline figures often focus on how many unpaid carers we have in society at any one time, we lose sight of the people who become unpaid carers or stop their unpaid caring roles every day.”

“We describe the transitions in unpaid care over the past decade and demonstrate that they are not experienced by people equally. The changing nature of unpaid care means we need flexible and dynamic policies and practices to identify and support unpaid carers and the diversity of their experiences.”

* Read: Cycles of caring: transitions in and out of unpaid care here.

* Source: Carers UK