Value of unpaid care in England and Wales equivalent to NHS budget – research

The value of unpaid care in England and Wales has risen by almost a third in a decade and is almost equivalent to a second NHS, a new research estimate has suggested.

Unpaid carers contribute £162 billion per year to the economy in the two nations, according to research by Carers UK and the University of Sheffield.

They compared this to an estimated £164 billion in funding for the NHS in 2020/21.

Fewer carers have been providing more hours of care, the charity said, adding that pressures in the social care system mean people are “left without a choice but to put other areas of their life on hold and provide more care”.

The researchers used the latest figures from the 2021 census and calculated the number of people providing unpaid care against the cost for replacement care, taken as £25 per hour in 2021 and £18 per hour in 2011.

Their estimate of £162 billion per year for the economic value of the contributions made by carers in England and Wales in 2021 was 29% more in real terms than 2011, they said.

They used an estimate for NHS funding in England of £156 billion in 2020/21 from the King’s Fund health think tank and added the approximately £8 billion budget for the NHS in Wales.

Helen Walker (pictured), chief executive of Carers UK, said: “It is deeply concerning that the increase in the value of unpaid care over the last decade is a result of fewer carers providing more hours of care.

“The ever-declining availability of social care means there is shrinking support for families to pull on – and they are left without a choice but to put other areas of their life on hold and provide more care.

“Having to care round the clock for a loved one has significant implications for people’s ability to stay in paid work, remain financially resilient and maintain their health.

“Lacking adequate support, unpaid carers feel they are being taken for granted.

“The Government must show that it values and supports unpaid carers by investing in and delivering quality care services for families in the longer-term.

“Carers need a funded national carers strategy and recognition within the NHS.

“For hundreds of thousands of carers on low incomes, they are desperate to see their financial support urgently reviewed.”

Professor Matt Bennett, deputy director of the centre for care at the University of Sheffield, said: “The economic contribution made by unpaid carers has increased by 29% in the last decade and paints a stark picture of the savings they make to health care budgets.

“Without unpaid carers, our health and social care systems would collapse.

“In fact, our work shows that people are providing more hours of unpaid care than ever before.

“We hope policy makers see the urgent need to act to support unpaid carers.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said unpaid carers are owed “a huge amount of gratitude for the time and care they give their friends and family”.

They added: “We are finalising plans for how we deliver the funding for unpaid carers committed in the People at the Heart of Care Next Steps plan, and will provide an update in due course.”

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