House of Commons Library


Published Wednesday, June 12, 2019

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 current an previous Government policy on caring.

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The Department of Health and Social Care 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 Family Resources Survey estimated that in 2017/18 around 4.5 million people in the UK were providing unpaid care. This represents around 7% of the UK population.

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

The DWP’s Family Resources Survey reports that half of informal carers were in employment in 2017/18 (including carers aged 65 and over). 32% of carers were working full-time and 18% were working part-time.

25% of carers were retired while 22% were economically inactive (in other words, not in work and not looking for work) for other reasons.

For just over half of carers, their main source of income was earnings from employment (54% of carers in 2017/18). State or private pensions were the main source of income for just over a quarter of carers (26%), while around one in six carers (18%) drew most of their income from other benefits or tax credits.

55% of adult carers had weekly disposable income (after taxes and benefits) below £300 per 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 £123 per week after deductions. Consequently, individuals can experience problems combining receipt of Carers Allowance with paid work.

In November 2018 there were 1,289,000 Carer’s Allowance claimants in Great Britain, of whom 68% were women.

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 UK Government’s 2018-19 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. The Carers Action Plan 2018-2020: Supporting carers today, published in June 2018 included a commitment that the NHS England and the Care Quality Commission would work together to develop quality standards for general practitioner surgeries to demonstrate how effective they are in identifying and supporting carers. The NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, repeated the commitment to improve how the NHS identifies unpaid carers, and strengthen support for them to address their individual health needs. On 11 June 2019, NHS England announced a voluntary scheme for GP practices, aimed at young carers. This will encourage practices to identify and support children and young people providing informal care for family members.

Other House of Commons Library briefings on carers

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


Commons Briefing papers CBP-7756

Authors: Nerys Roberts; Tom Powell; Douglas Pyper; Steven Kennedy; Rachael Harker; Paul Bolton; Tim Jarrett; Andy Powell; Daniel Ferguson; Roderick McInnes; Lorna Booth

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

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