Unpaid Care: Census 2021 Published

Hand holding

19 January 2023

  • 152,000 rise in number of carers providing over 50 hours of care to just over 1.5 million.
  • Over a quarter of a million rise in number of unpaid carers providing 20-49 hours of care.
  • Surprising overall drop in number of carers from 5.8 to 5 million unpaid carers.

The 2021 Census has been published in stages, today (19/01/23) the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the 2021 data on unpaid care.

The data revealed some surprising figures. The Census was completed during the Coronavirus Pandemic which created restrictions on social movement and a reduction in social care creating increased demands for unpaid care. We would therefore expect to see a considerable rise in the number of unpaid carers identified through the 2021 Census however the data revealed an overall drop in the number of carers from 5.8 in 2011 to 5 million unpaid carers in 2021. The overall drop can mostly be accounted for through a reduction in the number of people providing lower hours of care.

The ONS suggests a number of reasons for this, including changes in the nature of caring during the pandemic and the high levels of deaths during the pandemic
. However, it also suggests that the change in question framing could have made a difference. Whilst the 2011 Census question mentioned providing unpaid care for family, friends or neighbours, the 2021 question referred to caring for anyone. This will have had an impact because people don’t recognise themselves as unpaid carers.  

Some less surprising outcomes of the Census are a rise in the number of carers providing over 50 hours of care and a rise in the number of unpaid carers providing 20-49 hours of care by over a quarter of a million.

In response to the publication Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: 

The increase in the number of hours of care provided by families every week since 2011 is striking and is a continuous upward trend. This is clearly a result of the shortage of adequate and properly funded social care services and health services to support unpaid carers and the people they care for. Funding to help carers take vital breaks and respite, so they can maintain their own health and wellbeing whilst looking after someone, is desperately needed along with significant social care funding.

We’re really surprised that the overall figure of unpaid carers has gone down and it feels out of step with what families are telling us right now. Whilst we’ll be able to look more deeply into the data shortly, we know that the change in the wording of the question will have had an impact.

Many people don’t identify themselves as unpaid carers and take years to do so – 51% of carers took over a year even though they were providing substantial care. Most people consider themselves to be a partner, husband, wife, son, daughter, good friend or neighbour and don’t recognise themselves as unpaid carers.

We know that there are potentially many more hidden carers out there that could be getting information, advice and support and it’s essential that public services recognise this in their planning and delivery.

Without the support provided by unpaid carers our health and social care systems would quite simply collapse. It is vital that the Government recognises the pressing needs of this huge swathe of people and develops a funded National Carers Strategy for England.

This would help millions of carers around the country get the practical and financial support they need to care without putting their health and livelihoods on hold.”

Download the full census report.