Around 4.5m people in the UK have become unpaid carers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research.
Figures published by the charity Carers UK to mark the start of National Carers Week, show 2.7m women and 1.8m men have started caring for relatives who are older, disabled or living with a physical or mental illness.
This is on top of the 9.1m unpaid carers who were already caring before the outbreak, bringing the total to 13.6m.
Typically, they will have been supporting loved ones from afar, helping with food shopping, collecting medicine, managing finances and providing reassurance and emotional support during the pandemic.
Some will have taken on intense caring roles, helping with tasks such as personal care, moving around the home, administering medication and preparing meals.
Carers UK estimate 2.8 million people who have started caring since the outbreak are also juggling paid work alongside their caring responsibilities, highlighting the need for working carers to be supported as they return to offices and work sites.
The six charities supporting Carers Week – Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Oxfam GB and Rethink Mental Illness – are calling on the UK Government to recognise and raise awareness of the role unpaid carers are playing during the pandemic and ensure they are supported through it, and beyond.
‘Recognising the contribution of unpaid carers to our society and properly supporting them has never been more important than during this pandemic,’ said Carers UK chief executive, Helen Walker.
‘An additional 4.5 million people are caring for sick, older or disabled loved ones – that’s the NHS workforce three times over. It demonstrates the scale of the care being provided behind closed doors, mostly hidden from view.
‘Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems. Yet many say they feel invisible and ignored. There are thousands caring round the clock without the practical support they would normally rely on to take a break, while others face increased costs accessing food and care products,’ she added.
‘The government must not take unpaid carers for granted in this crisis. It must ensure their physical and mental health is looked after and it is imperative that, moving out of the pandemic, the government rebuilds our care system so that carers are supported and families have the services they need to live better lives.’
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