Millions of unpaid carers are so overworked they are at increased risk of needing care and support themselves, warns new research.
Rising demand for care and the increasing costs of providing it is putting more pressure on families to look after loved ones – which is taking its toll on their own health and well-being, according to the report.
The strain on many of the 5.7 million unpaid carers means they are unable to take a break from their demanding role looking after people with complex needs.
Four out of 10 unpaid carers have not had a break in more than a year, while a quarter has not received a single day away from caring in five years, according to research by the chairty Carers UK.
They say this means they are at a growing risk of needing care and support themselves and the loved ones they are caring for could require more costly social care or being admitted to hospital creating a surge in demand on the NHS.
Emily Holzhausen OBE, policy director at Carers UK, said: “We cannot emphasise enough how important breaks are for carers, many of whom have very substantial caring responsibilities and provide round the clock care.
“Carers telling their stories are exhausted, demoralised and have lost vital community connections because there is not enough good quality care for a break.
“Everyone needs a break and time to recharge their batteries. Not only is this a basic right, but the health impacts for carers are significant.
“It’s a false economy in the long term not to invest in breaks.
“We urgently need clarification of short-term funding for social care and to provide breaks for carers before the situation worsens. And we need a long-term funding settlement to secure the future of breaks for carers.”
New research shows that nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of carers in England have suffered mental ill health, such as stress and depression, while 61 per cent have experienced physical ill health due to caring.
But their demanding role, a fifth of carers in England, the majority caring substantially more than 50 hours per week, have not received a carer’s assessment in the past year, according to Carers UK’s State of Caring Survey.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, warned that the strain is putting adult social care system at an increased risk of “collapse.”
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s Community Well-being Board, said: “Unpaid carers are the backbone of the care system, many of whom are unable to take a break, putting their own health on the line.
“Without these unsung heroes, the system would collapse.
“But this vital network of family carers is at an increased risk of breaking down due to the nature of the job, rising costs and demands for care, and the crisis in adult social care funding.
“Carers need breaks. Devoting significant time to unpaid care can not only lead to a downturn in carers’ health.
“It can also make it hard for them to maintain social relationships, keep working or learning, which could affect their financial security.”
The LGA estimates it would cost £150 million to provide carers’ assessments alone, which will help to identify their own support needs.
But this is more cost-effective than having to pay long-term costs for social care and emergency hospital care.
Following the Government’s postponement of its green paper, the LGA published its own in a bid to drive forward the public debate on what care and support is needed to improve people’s well-being and independence and crucially, how we fund these vital services.
The decision comes after it was revealed the number of people caring for a loved one has continued to rise, including an almost 130 per cent rise in the number of carers in England aged 85 and over, and they are caring for much longer periods.
Coun Hudspeth added: “More people are caring for a loved one than ever before and councils remain committed to helping carers, but significantly reduced funding is making this difficult.
“Councils in England receive 1.8 million new requests for adult social care a year – the equivalent of nearly 5,000 a day – and there is a £3.5 billion funding gap facing adult social care by 2025, just to maintain existing standards of care.
“We cannot duck this issue as a society any longer.
“Our green paper is the start of a nationwide public debate about the future of care for all adults, including unpaid carers, and how best to support their wellbeing and rescue the services caring for older and disabled people from collapse.”
The number of carers in England is estimated to have increased by almost 20 per cent between 2001 and 2015, with 1.4 million people in the UK providing more than 50 hours of unpaid care per week.