Caring for carers: the lives of family carers in the UK

Publication type



Publication date

July 15, 2018


The current social care system is putting pressure on families to step in and provide care for relatives where the state does not. Such family care is an essential element of the overall system of social care yet is not often put at the centre of conversation about the care system.

We estimate that there are 7.6 million family carers over the age of 16 in the UK.

Family carers are doing more care. Among carers, the proportion providing 20 or more hours a week has increased from 24% to 28% between 2005 and 2015. On average family carers provide 19.5 hours per week of care, which is equivalent to 149 million hours of care being provided each week in the UK. That is equal to the work of 4 million full-time paid care-givers.

The only occupational social class where the proportion of women providing care rose was management/professionals: 19% of women in professional jobs provide care, up from 18% in 2005. The proportion of women in “routine” occupations providing care fell, from 22% to 21%.

The report observes that:

1) There are more women with caring responsibilities in the professional and managerial occupations.
2) The number of hours of care that family carers provide is rising overall.
3) The more hours of care a person provides, the more likely they are to reduce their hours of work or exit the workforce altogether.

The SMF report makes a number of recommendations for the Social Care Green Paper, several of which are aimed at “nudging” employers into offering more support for working carers:

1) Employees should record the number of their staff who have caring responsibilities.
2) “Care pay gap” reporting could be required, where employers would publicly report the pay rates of staff with caring responsibilities and that of those of comparable staff without caring duties.
3) Big employers should be required to publish policies for supporting workers who care. Surveys suggest only 40% of large employers have policies setting out how managers should support carers.

The paper also suggests much greater use of “care navigators” to help family carers guide elderly relatives through the complex system of public sector bodies likely to be involved in their overall package of care.



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