Around 7.6 million people care for their families without being paid – meaning that qualified carers are missing out on work opportunities.
Independent think tank, Social Market Foundation, has found that more people are caring for relatives who are elderly or living with disabilities – roughly a one million more than in 2005 – and are calling on the government to urgently invest in social care services.
‘The care system requires a big injection of funding over the next three years in the Autumn Budget, plus an ambitious Green Paper that looks to the medium and longer term. The extent to which the Green Paper recognises the needs of informal carers and comes up with effective measures for meeting them will be one of the most important tests of its success,’ said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.
‘It would be dangerously complacent for policymakers to assume there is an infinite supply of wonderful people able and willing to provide informal care for their loved ones. For all kinds of demographic, social and economic reasons our current system of social care is living on borrowed time – it urgently needs transforming and in 2018 we must make a serious start’.
Age UK reported that the number of older people who don’t get the care they need have soared to a record high of 1.4 million, while delayed discharges due to a lack of social care are costing the NHS £500 every minute.
‘It is well known that the health and social care system couldn’t function without the voluntary contribution of millions of carers across the country. Carers and community nurses have always worked closely together to support family members and friends in the home and community,' said Sharon Aldridge-Bent, Queen’s Nurse at the Queen's Nursing Institute.
‘The increase in the number of carers in recent years is striking and reflects the growing number of people living with complex, long term health conditions. There must be adequate resources and capacity within health and social care to support carers, and nurses, if this system is to be sustainable in the future.'
The Social Market Foundation also found that individuals are working 149 million hours a week, which is equivalent to 4 million full-time carers.
‘The Government’s social care cuts have piled pressure onto hospitals,’ said Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), in response to the government’s cash injection of 3.4% funding increase.
‘Investing in home care and local community services helps stop hospitals becoming overwhelmed. Theresa May must be under no illusion that there can be a long-term solution for the NHS without a solution for social care too.’
The Prime Minister has promised an extra £20 billion a year by 2023, but the RCN insists more support must be given to social care.
‘Family carers are vital to the social care system, providing millions of hours of care every week and often paying a high price for doing so. Any reform of the social care system must properly recognise and support family carers and the challenges they face,’ said Kathryn Petrie, economist at the Social Market Foundation.
‘More women with professional and managerial jobs are trying to combine work with family care. We know that carers are often driven to reduce their hours or leave work altogether and without proper support for these carers, there is a risk that women are increasingly driven out of professional careers, reversing recent progress towards equality in the workforce.’
This news comes as ministers prepare to publish a green paper on social care.