Research by Birmingham and Sheffield universities shows half of women will be carers by the age of 46

A disabled senior woman in a wheelchair with her young female carer.

Researchers Dr Matthew Bennett and Dr Yanan Zhang from the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham have collaborated with the University of Sheffield on a new report which shows that you are just as likely to care unpaid for a loved one as own your own home.

The report published by Charity Carers UK draws on data from 2001 to 2018 which shows that two-thirds (65%) of adults have cared unpaid for a loved one. This is similar to estimates showing 64% of the population own their own home.

Owning a home is a common life milestone and something many British people prepare for.

But figures released reveal the stark reality that the average person can just as likely expect to become an unpaid carer for someone who is older, disabled or seriously ill - something that few people are prepared for.

The research also reveals that the average person has a 50:50 chance of caring by 50 - long before they reach retirement age. 

On average, women can expect to take on caring responsibilities over a decade earlier than men. Half of women will care by the age of 46, compared to half of men who can expect to care at 57.

This means that women are especially likely to care during their working life – highlighting the need for employers to support their employees to stay in work by adopting flexible working practices and a right of five to ten days of paid care leave.

  • Figures released show two thirds of UK adults can expect to care unpaid for a loved one in their lifetime
  • Women taking on caring responsibilities a decade earlier than men
  • Carers UK calls for sustainable investment in social care to support millions of carers

Dr Matthew Bennett, Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Birmingham commented:

“Our research highlights the importance of unpaid carers and the growing role that caring plays in all our lives. Caring provides precious support for our loved ones, but all too often impacts negatively upon our finances, health and relationships. We hope our work raises awareness and gives carers the support they need, at a time when urgent sustainable investment is needed in our social care system.”

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“Many of us don’t expect to become an unpaid carer but the reality is two in three of us will do it in our lifetimes.

“Our research shows women are disproportionately affected, facing difficult decisions about their loved ones’ health, family finances and how best to combine paid work and care more than a decade earlier than men.

“The next government has to make sure this ‘gender care gap’ is addressed by giving carers a right of five to ten days of paid care leave. It must also prioritise sustainable, long term investment in our social care system so that millions of people caring for loved ones can stay in work and look after their own health.”

Separate research by the charity reveals significant consequences for carers coping without support. In a study of those caring more than 50 hours a week, almost half (49%) reported their finances had been negatively impacted, 52% had suffered poorer physical health and the vast majority (77%) were suffering from stress or anxiety as a result of missing out.

Carers UK is urging all political parties to commit to delivering long term investment in social care so that millions of people can look after loved ones without putting their lives on hold. It is also calling on all parties to better recognise carers within public services, including placing a legal duty on the NHS to identify carers and promote their health and wellbeing.

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