MILLIONS of the UK’s unpaid carers looking after disabled, older or ill relatives or friends are faced with no choice about taking on an unpaid caring role, due to a lack of alternative care options.

Responding to a YouGov Omnibus poll of nearly 6,500 members of the public, 62 per cent of current and former unpaid carers said they had no choice – the equivalent to 10 million adult unpaid carers. By contrast, 29 per cent of current and former unpaid carers said that other care options were available, but they chose to undertake the unpaid carer role.

The research also suggested that the situation may be getting worse with those currently providing unpaid care more likely than former unpaid carers to say they had no choice (66 per cent compared to 59 per cent), due to a lack of available care options.

For many, caring with little support is taking a heavy toll. Those who responded to the survey found the impact of providing unpaid care was more negative than positive, with the biggest negative effect being on those current and former unpaid carers who said they had no choice about caring saying it had a ‘slightly or ‘very’ negative impact on the following:

  • 70 per cent on their mental health
  • 60 per cent on their physical health
  • 56 per cent on their job and ability to work
  • 54 per cent on their finances and savings
  • 43 per cent on their relationships

The report also found that women were more likely than men to say unpaid caring had a ‘very’ negative impact on mental health (27 per cent compared with 19 per cent) and on their job and ability to work (22 per cent compared with 16 per cent). A higher proportion of women said unpaid caring had a ‘very’ or ‘slightly’ negative impact on their relationships compared with men (42 per cent compared with 30 per cent) and on their physical heath compared to men (59 per cent compared with 42 per cent).

Those aged 45 to 54 were most likely to have no choice when taking on an unpaid caring role (70 per cent) and were most likely to say that unpaid caring has had a ‘very’ or ‘slightly’ negative impact on their finances and savings, job and ability to work, and pensions, compared to other age groups.

Dorothy Cook is an unpaid carer from Bristol. She stopped working over a decade ago to care for her husband Melvin, who has a rare brain disease. Dorothy said: “If I had been asked 15 years ago where I saw my life in 2024, I would never have dreamed it would be as a full-time carer. I had started my own business and it was thriving. I worked long hours and it wasn’t always easy. But I will honestly say that being a full-time unpaid carer has been the toughest and most challenging role of all.

“I was forced into giving up my dream life, job, friends, relationships and my physical and mental health suffered. I am financially poorer. I do it because of my love for someone who has found themselves dependent on me. I also have little choice about caring because the system is unable to provide the care my husband needs. It leaves me without enough breaks and the essential support I also need for my own health. I’m often caring 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which is exhausting.”

An additional YouGov Political Omnibus poll of over 4,200 members of the public showed widespread backing for more support to be given to unpaid carers, with 73 per cent saying there should be more support from the next government.

It is estimated that around 16.1 million people have been or are currently an unpaid carer, and since 2011 the number of hours of unpaid care being provided has increased significantly, with 1.5 million people in England and Wales now caring for over 50 hours every week.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK said: “These findings demonstrate how caring can have a profound effect on every aspect of life and wellbeing, from mental and physical health, being able to work, or affecting their future income including pensions. That’s why we need to see a future Government deliver action across Government, in the form of a National Carers Strategy. With an ageing population, this is becoming ever more important.

“Carers Week is an important annual opportunity to ‘put carers on the map’. We want unpaid carers to know they are not forgotten, and they are not alone. Many are at breaking point, facing huge challenges with their caring responsibilities. On top of this they are struggling to manage their own health and wellbeing. Carers are worried about their long-term health, security and ability to care in the future.”

Carers Week is taking place from 10 -16 June. It is a UK-wide awareness campaign seeking to increase visibility for carers with decision makers, services, employers, communities, and businesses.

* Read: No choice but to care: Carers Week report 2024 here.

* Source: Carers UK