Caring and Covid

Infographic from Caring and Covid report

05 August 2020

Yesterday a new report was published to share a greater understanding of the significant  impact Covid-19 has had on unpaid carers looking after loved ones who do not live with them. 

The report looks at carers' experience of loneliness and at their use of health, social and community services. It uses latest data based on the responses of a large representative sample of the UK’s population collected in the Understanding Society panel study and was carried out by the Universities of Birmingham and Sheffield, in partnership with Carers UK.

The Government introduced 'lockdown' measures in March in response to the public threat of Covid-19. Many carers were already experiencing increased pressure and challenges before this was implemented with rising concern of risk of infection to the person they care for as well as themselves and family members. 

Caring for a loved one can be an extremely rewarding role however, it is recognised that it can have negative effects on carers' mental and physical health and can exasperate feelings of loneliness. The pandemic has heightened this. Previous research by Carers UK has shown that the pressure of 'lockdown' has taken a huge toll on unpaid carers’ mental health, with many reporting feeling isolated, overwhelmed and worried about burning out.

Lady with head in hands

Many people were isolated during 'lockdown' as opportunities to engage in social connections were removed alongside a reduction in services and paid care which allow some reprieve from their caring responsibilities. Therefore it is not surprising that many carers have experienced significant periods of loneliness during this time. The report highlights that carers were more likely to feel lonely than non carers and working cares were more likely to experience feelings of loneliness than carers without a paid job. This was at a time when the majority (70%) of carers had to provide more care for older, disabled or seriously ill relatives or friends, and millions more people took on an unpaid caring role. 

Accessing Health and Social Care

The research goes on to show that well over half (58%) of people caring for someone outside of their own home were unable to get through to NHS 111 services in April. This is compared to 33% of the general public.

89% of carers saw their NHS treatments cancelled or postponed in April, compared to 77% of the general public. As it is difficult for many carers to find the time, or get replacement care, to receive treatment, many will still have unresolved health problems.

In April 2020, half of carers with health conditions (2 in 5 other people) needed community services. Overall, 1 in 4 carers needing help did not get a service they needed. Figures improved in May, but carers remained worse off.

In April, 50% of carers (2 in 5 other people) needing formal care did not get it.

2 in 5 carers and others who required a psychotherapy service did not get it.

These figures are alarming, carers are more likely to experience health problems both physically and mentally and were unable to access the vital services they needed at a time when they needed them most. 

Financial Impact

A report focusing on carers’ financial wellbeing, their hours of paid work – before and during the pandemic – and their experience of the Government’s furlough scheme in April and May 2020 was published in June 2020.

As well as being unable to access services, at the height of 'lockdown' carers felt more financially insecure, compared to the general public - especially women. 1.3 million carers said they were finding it very difficult to get by, quite difficult to get by or were just about getting by.

Piggy bank with copper piled in front

Surprisingly, working age carers aged 31-45 caring felt the most financially insecure. Which could be owing to the increased uncertainty with employment for many businesses across the country and the introduction of the furlough scheme. 

Given the extra costs of caring, and the impact caring has on people’s ability to work, Carers UK is calling for an immediate increase in Carer’s Allowance – the main benefit for carers looking after someone for 35 hours or more a week – currently just £67.25 a week. We support this campaign and would like to see an allowance for carers that reflects the practical and emotional support they provide as well as the financial implications of providing unpaid care.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“With a large number of support services still closed, carers are desperate for a break. It is imperative that these services are reopened as soon as possible and that local authorities undertake a rapid reassessment of carers’ needs. Likewise, the NHS must quickly identify carers and prioritise their needs and medical treatment. If their health breaks down, the cost will be catastrophic.

Both reports highlight the challenges unpaid carers have faced throughout the year which have added to an already challenging role. Unfortunately many carers are still experiencing these challenges as we continue to adjust and negotiate life during a pandemic. 

Carers UK have called the Government to action, to recognise and prioritise carers in their Recovery Plan. Recommendations include:

  • Systematic reviews and planning to ensure that those carers most at risk of poor wellbeing and burn out get support
  • Urgent reassessment of carers’ support needs by local authorities
  • Reinstatement of care and support services as soon as possible
  • Should another lockdown occur, carers to have priority access to the NHS 111 service and their planned medical treatment to be prioritised going forward
  • Sustained investment in carers’ mental health, wellbeing and ability to care
  • Carers’ voices and experiences put at the heart of building future recovery, locally and nationally.

Read the full reports for further information:

Caring and Covid: Loneliness and Use of Services 

Caring and Covid: Financial Wellbeing.