Documents to download

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has described an informal/unpaid carer as: “…someone who provides unpaid help to a friend or family member needing support, perhaps due to illness, older age, disability, a mental health condition or an addiction”, as long as they are not employed to do so.

How many informal carers?

The Family Resources Survey estimated that in 2019/20 around 7% of the UK population were providing unpaid care.

Rise in unpaid care during the pandemic

A Carers Week report published in June 2020, found an estimated 4.5 million additional people had taken on caring responsibilities. This meant a quarter of UK adults were providing unpaid care.

Carers UK published the results of an online survey of around 6,000 current and former carers in October 2020. The survey found 81% were providing more care since the start of the pandemic and 78% said the needs of the person they care for have increased. 28% said they were “struggling to make ends meet.”

Carers UK made several recommendations, including ensuring that carers can continue to remain in work, publishing guidance for unpaid carers, and that Parliament delivers a new deal for carers.

Support for unpaid carers during the pandemic

The DHSC published Covid-19 guidance for unpaid carers (updated May 2021), which said that all eligible unpaid carers should have been invited for a coronavirus vaccination.

The Government’s action plan for adult social care (updated December 2020) also said care providers should contact unpaid carers to ensure they were able to receive supplies to help them with their care responsibilities The Government has also provided additional funding for the Carers UK helpline. NHS England confirmed that carers can call NHS volunteer responders for support during the pandemic.

The Government also confirmed that unpaid carers could continue to claim Carer’s Allowance when self-isolating. During the pandemic, emotional support can also count towards the 35 hours a week Carer’s Allowance care threshold. Carers may, in certain circumstances, be eligible for statutory sick pay.

The Scottish Government issued advice for unpaid carers (updated May 2021), including information on testing and financial support. Guidance has also been issued for unpaid and young carers in Northern Ireland. The Welsh Government issued a statement confirming that it expects local authorities to maintain the rights of unpaid carers provided under the Care Act 2014. Guidance was issued (updated 20 May 2021) and funding for the mental health of unpaid carers has also been announced.


Carers are entitled to a range of benefits, but the main cash benefits are Carer’s Allowance, and the carer premium, which is payable with means-tested benefits such as Income Support, Pension Credit and Housing Benefit.

Universal Credit, which is replacing means-tested benefits for people of working age, also includes a carer element. Recipients of Carer’s Allowance must not be in full-time education or have earnings of more than £128 per week after deductions. This can create problems for those in paid work to receive additional paid support.

In November 2020, there were 1.3 million Carer’s Allowance claimants in Great Britain. Women made up 68% of the total.

Support for carers in education

If the carer is in school, they might have access to counselling. In England, they might also be eligible for additional Pupil Premium funding, which goes directly to their schools if they are, or have been, entitled to free school meals.

In further education, students in England with caring responsibilities might be able to access discretionary  bursary support for 16-19-year-olds. However, they can’t claim Carer’s Allowance.

In higher education, mainstream student support funding includes additions for students with qualifying dependents

Other support

Local authority: Carers are entitled to a statutory assessment of their support needs, undertaken by the local authority.

The assessment must consider factors such as what assistance the carer needs to continue providing care, for their independent needs, and, for young people, whether it is appropriate for them to provide care. 

Since 1 April 2015, any adult carer who meets national eligibility criteria must be provided with services. Even when the criteria are not met, local authorities have discretionary powers to provide support. Young carers do not need to meet national eligibility criteria and local authorities must only consider their assessment in deciding whether to provide support.

NHS: The Carers Action Plan 2018-2020 included a commitment for NHS England and the Care Quality Commission to work together in developing standards for GP surgeries. These should be used to show how effective they are in identifying and supporting carers.

The NHS Long Term Plan of January 2019 repeated a commitment to improve how the NHS identifies unpaid carers, and to better address  their health needs.

Government policy

In March 2016, the Government launched a call for evidence on what should be included in a planned Carers Strategy for England. However, no Carers Strategy followed. Rather, in June 2018 the Government published a Carers Action Plan 2018–20 which “set out a cross-government programme of work to improve support for carers over the next two years”.

The Government has said that it intends  to publish a final evaluation of the Carers Action Plan in 2021, alongside which it will “consider next steps to build on the work initiated through the…Plan.”

When the Government decided not to proceed with the publication of a Carers Strategy it stated that carers would instead be included in a then expected Green Paper on the reform of adult social care. However, the expected Green Paper had not been published by the time of the 2019 general election and the current Government no longer specifically refers to plans for a Green Paper.

The current position on broader reform of adult social care is that the Government is “committed to improving the adult social care system and will bring forward proposals in 2021.” It is not clear what form the proposals will take when published, or if they will include informal carers. Carers UK has called for reforms that “make sure unpaid carers get the practical and financial support they need to care” to be “delivered without any further delays.”

More information on social care reform can be found in the Library briefing CB8001, Reform of adult social care funding: developments since July 2019 (England).

Additional briefings

The Commons Library has also published:

Material has also been published relating to Devolved policies:

Documents to download

Related posts