This POSTnote looks at the numbers of unpaid carers across the UK, and the amount and type of care provided. It examines the impacts of providing unpaid care on carers’ education, employment, finances, health and wellbeing, and personal and social relationships. The note reviews the different types of support available for carers and examines evidence on their effectiveness.Jump to full report >>
The Government defines unpaid care as a private arrangement whereby someone cares for a family member, friend, or neighbour because of long-term physical or mental ill health or disability, or care needs relating to old age. Carers provide a range of support including personal care, emotional support, help with practical tasks such as shopping, and reminding or giving medication. Most unpaid care is provided by children and spouses.
Positive effects of caring including improvements in psychological well-being, personal fulfilment and physical health. However, in general, research shows that providing unpaid care is associated with negative impacts on carers’ education, employment, household finances, health and wellbeing, and personal and social relationships. These effects vary according to the characteristics of the carer, the relationship between the carer and the person they care for, and the type, amount (number of hours per week), and duration (length of time caring) of care provided. For example, effects tend to worsen for carers that provide personal care (such as helping to dress), care for 50 or more hours of care per week, and for those that live with the person for which they care.
Support for carers can be provided by governments (through the benefits system for example), employers, health and social care services, charities, schools, friends and family, or paid for privately. Across the UK, local authorities have a duty to identify carers and carers have the right to request an assessment of their support needs. Types of support can include financial, employment, respite care, training, and emotional support. Some carers, such as those from ethnic minorities, can find it difficult to access support.
There have been few evaluations of financial and employment support for carers but evidence suggests that paid services for the person cared, such as home care, may be effective in supporting carers’ employment. Providing carers with respite care may increase wellbeing and reduce stress, and education and training may help to increase carers’ understanding of health conditions.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
* Denotes external reviewers of the briefing.
Authors: Aine Kelly; Caroline Kenny
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology produces independent, balanced and accessible briefings on public policy issues related to science and technology.