A growing number of people spend more than 20 hours a week caring for relatives or friends. They deserve more support
The support for unpaid carers, of whom there are 5 million in England and Wales, is not good enough. The latest census release, showing that about 1.5 million carers spend more than 50 hours each week caring for elderly or disabled relatives, is an opportunity to address this. While the total number of unpaid carers has fallen by 600,000 since the last census – the pandemic may have skewed the numbers – the rise in the number of those spending at least 20 hours each week on unpaid care is a stark reminder of the demographic changes under way, the challenges these are creating for millions of families, and the inadequate public-policy response.
Often, these issues are framed in terms of the pressure they put on the NHS. In particular, the chronic national shortage of social care means that many patients who are fit to be discharged from hospital end up stuck there. Unless the 165,000 vacancies for paid care workers start to be filled, it is hard to see this situation improving. The government and councils have mismanaged the sector disastrously, allowing greedy private care home bosses to extract excess profits. The revelation that the directors of one chain, Runwood Homes, received £57m in salaries and dividends over five years despite almost a third of their homes failing the most recent inspections, is an egregious example.