Documents to download

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has described an informal/unpaid carer (PDF) 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 carers are there?

The Family Resources Survey estimated that in 2020/21 around 6% of the UK population (4.2 million people) were providing informal care. The survey defines informal caring as care that is not a paid job, and can occur for many, or only a few, hours a week. Since 2009/10, around 60% of informal carers are women.

The Family Resources Survey does not provide detailed information on young carers. However, Census data provides some information. The 2011 Census found that there were 491,000 carers aged 24 or younger in the UK, an increase of around 87,000 since 2001. A 2013 report from the Children’s Society (PDF) found young carers were 1.5 times more likely to be from “black, Asian or minority ethnic communities”.

The NHS has acknowledged the “vital contribution” of carers, saying it was “critical and underappreciated … not only to loved ones, neighbours and friends, but to the very sustainability of the NHS in England”.

Benefits for carers

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 £132 per week after deductions. These rules can create problems, forcing people to choose between caring or continuing in paid work or education.

In November 2021, there were 1.3 million Carer’s Allowance claimants in Great Britain. Women made up 69% 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.

A carer in higher education can access additional student support funding if the adult they care for qualifies.

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

Other local authority support

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, 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 support for carers

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.

Proposed reforms to social care

In September 2021, the Government set out plans to reform how people pay for adult social care in England. The proposals include the introduction from October 2023 of an £86,000 cap on the amount anyone will have to pay towards their personal care over their lifetime. The means test for accessing local authority funding support will also be made more generous.

On 1 December 2021, the Government published a White Paper on wider adult social care reform: People at the Heart of Care. The White Paper set out a range of policies aimed at “empowering unpaid carers”. Specific commitments included:

  • £25 million to work with the sector to “kick start a change in the services provided to support unpaid carers.”
  • A new duty on Integrated Care Boards to involve carers when exercising their commissioning functions.
  • Amending the school census to include young carers.
  • Increasing the voluntary use of markers that identify unpaid carers in NHS electronic health records.

Documents to download

Related posts