This week is carers week, when the fantastic contribution and role played by the millions of carers in the UK is celebrated. It is all very big, or even good, society. The numbers of those with a caring role is on the increase. But there is one particular group of carers whose numbers are increasing fast, and that is older carers who care for very old relatives. The reasons for the increase are clear. According to the ONS, the fastest population increase has been in the number of those aged 85 and over, the “oldest old”. In 1984, there were around 660,000 people in the UK aged 85 and over. Since then the numbers have more than doubled reaching 1.4 million in 2009. By 2034 the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to be 2.5 times larger than in 2009, reaching 3.5 million and accounting for 5 per cent of the total population. This is, of course, a fantastic success story with people living longer and living healthier for longer. But it also means that there are many older people who are themselves caring for very old and frail relatives.
The statistics are not even half the story. Behind them are hundreds of thousands of human stories of love and care that are a source of pride and inspiration. But they should also be a source of shame that as a society we are still allowing people to struggle so appallingly. Take Mrs M who is 80 and cares for her husband, Mr M, who is 87.
They have been married for forty years and until Mr M was diagnosed with dementia 6 years ago they had plans to travel in their retirement. He was once a pre-eminent science lecturer and it has been difficult for Mrs M to adjust to the changes in Mr M’s behaviour. On top of all of this, Mrs M has arthritis and has been suffering from exhaustion due to her caring role. She loves her husband but is struggling to support him – she will not give in willingly though.
She is not alone in this. It has been reported that 75% of carers have suffered with health issues as a result of their caring role. Unfortunately, reductions in the budgets in Mrs M’s London borough mean that her husband has had his needs reassessed by the local authority. Because it is not seen as a “critical” need to go to a day centre, Mr M will no longer have his one day a week outing. This break gave Mrs M three hours of time to take care of paper work, do the shop, and possibly attend GP appointments for her arthritis.
The problem is that Mrs M’s own health is deteriorating because of her arthritis and the decreasing amount of support she gets from her local council. Losing just three hours a week in respite means that pretty soon Mrs M won’t be able to take care of her own needs. This could, and in fact often does, lead to a crisis where two people end up very ill and without support.
If Mrs M couldn’t care for her husband, then the state would have to step in. And that costs. In fact, the replacement value of a carer is £18 an hour. With an estimated 6,440,713 carers in the UK, people like Mrs M, pound for pound, save the UK economy £119 billion per year by caring for a partner or family member. Even if Mrs M only cared for her husband five hours a day, instead of her usual 12 (including being woken up each night), she would have saved the economy £32,850.00 a year. That is for five hours a day. The fact is, most carers report that they care for someone for over 50 hours a week, saving the economy, on average, £52,560.00 a year per carer.
According to carers week:
» 76% of carers are worse off financially since taking on their caring responsibilities;
» 75% of carers have suffered with health issues as a result of caring;
» 49% of carers have a disability, condition or illness themselves;
» 48% have been a carer for more than 10 years;
» 78% are female.
So carers are a massive and undervalued resource. They save us all money and provide the ultimate welfare state to their loved ones. Successive governments’ track record in supporting this group is pretty poor – none of us has much to be proud of. But as we look at making savings in the public purse, we should take care that we don’t make the situation even more difficult. The long term cost to the taxpayer would be much more than the savings. The human cost would be incalculable.
Remember that in the future Mr and Mrs M could be you.
Posted by Peter Watt, Chief Executive of Counsel and Care
This blog first appeared on Labour Uncut on 16.06.11