Diminishing support for carers shows ‘widening gulf’ between Government rhetoric and reality

Fewer unpaid carers are receiving council support or respite breaks, while official spending is falling, according to analysis revealing a “widening gulf” between Government rhetoric and reality.

Millions of people who provide unpaid care for loved ones have experienced “diminishing help” from councils and the Government over recent years, the Nuffield Trust said.

This is despite numerous Government proposals and strategies to ensure carers are recognised and valued, and are supported to maintain a balance between their caring responsibilities and life outside caring, stay healthy and fulfil their educational and employment outcomes.

The think tank’s analysis reveals that, over the last five years, the numbers of carers being assessed for local authority support has grown by 1% but the number receiving support has fallen by 11%.

This translates into a 13,000 drop in the numbers of carers receiving direct support from their local authority, from 121,000 in 2015-16 to 108,000 in 2020/21.

Instead, councils have been signposting carers towards other information and support services.

Access to breaks for carers, via funding allowing the cared-for person to be looked after by someone else, fell by 42% over the same five-year period, the Nuffield Trust said.

At the same time, local authority spending on services for carers has fallen by 11%, to £156 million in 2021-22.

The findings echo a Survey of Adult Carers published earlier this year by NHS Digital, which found that unpaid carers are feeling increasingly socially isolated, stressed, depressed and not encouraged or supported.

Many carers are now facing a combination of low income and increased energy bills amid the wider cost-of-living crisis on top of existing pressures.

The Nuffield Trust said unpaid care is “often not visible” but has become an essential part of the health and care system and is worth billions of pounds every year.

It said the new Government must take immediate steps to improve the support available for carers.

Without this, the reliance of the health and care system on unpaid carers “will become increasingly unstable”, it warned.

Senior fellow Charlotte Paddison said: “Over the last decade-and-a-half, politicians have talked the talk of supporting and recognising carers, with laudable policy statements and plans to support them. But our work reveals a widening gulf between this rhetoric and the reality facing unpaid carers.

“As we experience the biggest cost-of-living squeeze in living memory, the need to address this has never been more pressing.

“At the heart of this is a lack of accountability at the highest levels of Government about who is responsible for success and failure, a paucity of robust data both on carers’ needs and on national and local support for them, and the near total invisibility of carers in wider policymaking.

“Given the crucial role that unpaid carers play in supporting our overstretched NHS and social care systems, it is imperative that the new Government takes immediate steps to improve the plight of unpaid carers and raise their profile in wider public policy.”

The Carers Trust said the fall in support was “alarming”, and called for emergency funding, including an immediate increase in Carer’s Allowance in line with inflation, and a longer-term Government strategy.

Director of policy and external affairs Joe Levenson said: “The reduction of support for unpaid carers is inexcusable when you consider how millions of unpaid carers have been selflessly propping up our ailing health and social care systems by staying at home to care for sick and disabled relatives.

“Around half have had to give up paid work to do so, driving many of them into poverty before the cost-of-living crisis.

“What’s needed now is clear leadership from the UK Government.”

A government spokesman said: “Carers play a vital role in our communities, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

“We know people are struggling with the cost of living, and we are providing financial support to carers, while we have also set aside £291.7 million in Better Care Funding to provide short breaks and respite services for carers.

“We have made an additional £3.7 billion of funding to councils in 2022-23, including over £1 billion of additional resource specifically for social care.”

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