House of Commons Library


Published Thursday, November 23, 2017

This House of Commons Library briefing paper provides information about the number of carers in the UK and the issues they face. It also explains the rights, benefits and support available to carers as well as previous Government policy on caring.

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The Department of Health defines informal carers as:

…people who look after family members, friends, neighbours or others because of long-term physical or mental ill health or disability, or care needs related to old age. This does not include any activities as part of paid employment.

How many carers?

The 2011 Census found that 6.5 million people in the UK were providing unpaid care. This represents 10.3% of the UK population, roughly the same proportion as reported in the 2001 Census although the absolute number has increased by around 625,000.

Contribution made by carers

Research commissioned by Carers UK and published in November 2015 estimated that 1.4 million people were providing 50 or more carer hours a week for a partner, friend or family member in the UK. As such they made a significant contribution to society and the NHS. The NHS has acknowledged this contribution, saying that it was “critical and underappreciated … not only to loved ones, neighbours and friends, but to the very sustainability of the NHS in England”.

Carers’ incomes, health and wellbeing

Employment and income

In 2015/16 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimated that around half of adult carers (all aged 16 and over) were in employment – 33% in full-time employment and 17% in part-time employment. 26% of carers were retired, while 21% were economically inactive (not in work and not seeking work) for other reasons.

The majority (53%) cited earnings from employment as their main source of income. For 27%, state or private pensions were the main source. Around one in six carers reported drawing most of their income from other benefits or tax credits.

Research commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation looked at poverty levels among carers over the period 2011/12 to 2013/14. This estimated that 1.2 million carers were in poverty (based on income after housing costs and excluding disability benefits). Overall, poverty rates were slightly higher for carers than non-carers, but increased markedly for those providing more than 20 hours of care a week.


Carers could be entitled to a range of benefits, but the main cash benefits for those caring for disabled people are Carers Allowance and the carer premium, payable with means-tested benefits such as Income Support, Pension Credit and Housing Benefit. Recipients of Carers Allowance must not be in full-time education, and must not have an income of more than £116 per week after deductions. Consequently, individuals can experience problems combining receipt of Carers Allowance with paid work.

At November 2016, 72% of the 804,000 Carer’s Allowance recipients in Great Britain were women. Total expenditure on Carers Allowance in 2017-18 is forecast to be over £2.9 billion.

Other support for carers

In schools: carers in schools may be able to access counselling services. They may also attract additional Pupil Premium funding for their schools if they are or have previously been entitled to free school meals. Data suggests a large proportion of young carers fall into this category.

In further education: students in England with caring responsibilities may be able to access discretionary 16-19 bursary support. However, being in full-time education means they cannot claim Carers Allowance.

In higher education: mainstream student support funding includes additions for students with qualifying adult dependents.

Social services: carers are entitled to a statutory assessment of their support needs, undertaken by the local authority. The assessment must consider a range of factors such as what assistance the carer requires to continue providing care, and their own independent needs, and, in the case of young people, whether it is appropriate for the child to provide care in light of their own needs. 

Since 1 April 2015, any adult carer who meets national eligibility criteria must be provided with services to meet their needs. Even when these eligibility criteria aren’t met, local authorities have discretionary powers to provide support. For young carers, there are no national eligibility criteria and local authorities need only consider their assessment in deciding whether to provide support.

Health: The 2015 Government’s 2016-17 Mandate to NHS England states that “carers should routinely be identified and given access to information and advice about the support available”. NHS England’s Commitment to Carers also recognises and highlights the importance of carers to the NHS, setting out how NHS England will take practical steps to support carers.

Other House of Commons Library briefings on carers

This paper is one of a series of briefings on carers. Other Library briefing papers include:

The House of Commons Library also published a debate pack for a Backbench Business Debate on Thursday 9 June 2016:

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7756

Authors: Nerys Roberts; Alex Adcock; Nerys Roberts; Andy Powell; Tom Powell; Steven Kennedy; Rachael Harker; Paul Bolton; Laura Abreu; Feargal McGuinness; Tim Jarrett; Alexander Bellis

Topics: Children's social services, Employment, Schools, Sickness, disability and carers' benefits

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