Seven in 10 unpaid carers say that caring during the pandemic has negatively affected their emotional and mental health, a study has revealed.
The Embracing Carers study, conducted by science and technology company Merck, in collaboration with Carers UK and other global caregiving organisations, highlights the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on social care in the UK.
More than half (54%) of those surveyed said it has also impacted their financial wellbeing, largely due to paying for supplies and resources needed to provide care. Additionally, 49% of respondents stated that their physical health had been compromised.
According to Carers UK, an estimated 13.6m people in the UK have provided unpaid care during the peak of the pandemic and continue to do so.
The study suggests that one in 10 (10%) UK carers started providing care for the first time since the outbreak, however, estimates could be much higher, which has also had a knock-on effect on their own work commitments and needs.
One year on and the ramifications of the pandemic and lockdowns on caring for loved ones is having lasting effects, with 77% of carers experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout, as well as more physical and emotional exhaustion than ever before.
This reflects the findings that nine in 10 carers (91%) are putting the needs of the people they support above their own and four in five (80%) feel they have sacrificed their personal life since the pandemic began.
Among carers whose emotional health worsened during the pandemic, a third (35%) feel they have no one to turn to for support.
The study also found that unpaid carers feel they are not receiving enough support from the national (63%) or local (62%) government, higher than the global average (57% and 56% respectively).
Why has the UK fared so poorly?
Although shielding restrictions have now lifted and lockdown is starting to ease, unpaid carers have had to take on more or new responsibilities, in addition to their own work commitments, with key resources and support services, including face to face respite care, being severely reduced or unavailable to them.
This was one of the biggest challenges, for a third (33%) of UK unpaid carers felt unable to take a break, one of the highest in Europe, meaning that they themselves are not looking after their own needs while caring for loved ones.
With an ageing population, the number of dependent older people in the UK is likely to increase by 113% by 2051, and the increasing challenges due to the pandemic, there is an urgent need for more structured support, greater access to services and funding to help unpaid carers who provide critical support for people with health and social care needs.
Helen Walker, chief executive, Carers UK said: ‘This Embracing Carers study is the largest and most comprehensive comparative global study of unpaid carers and highlights the true impact of Covid-19 on them.
‘The last year has shone a light on the extraordinary support unpaid carers have provided, but this has come at a cost, with many experiencing severe emotional strain and burnout. Carers are in need of support and are at risk of illness as a result.
‘As we move out of lockdown it is vital that the government, services and all parts of our communities play their role providing support for carers to take respite breaks, improve awareness and understanding of the resources and support available to carers, and that carers get greater access to that support, whether it is emotional, physical or financial.
‘Although the pandemic has created challenges it has also provided some positive changes for carers, including workplace flexibility and the ability to take time off work with furlough.
‘There has been better access to online appointments, the establishment of respite support bubbles and increased use of technology enabling people to keep in touch with loved ones.’
The impact of Covid-19 on finances and employment
Alongside the psychological impact of caregiving taking its toll on unpaid carers, it has had an impact on their finances, physical health and current employment.
Financial responsibilities have also increased notably for carers, coinciding with the stress of having to work remotely and care for vulnerable individuals.
Unpaid carers bear the brunt of the impact on their own careers, with 59% providing caring responsibilities in addition to their other paid work.
Carers UK found that pre-pandemic approximately 5m people in the UK were juggling caring responsibilities with work, approximately one in seven of the workforce, and a further 2.8m more workers took on a new caring responsibility during the coronavirus outbreak.
Managing the stress of having to work remotely and care for vulnerable individuals has taken its toll, with two thirds (66%) of employed unpaid carers concerned they will have to work full time remotely while also caregiving for the foreseeable future.
This additional responsibility and increased time required to support loved ones during the pandemic has meant that more half (56%) of unpaid carers have had a negative impact on their career, such as long-term employment goals.
The study also estimated that the time spent caring for loved ones will increase post-pandemic from 21.3 hours caring for a loved one before the pandemic to 32 average hours per week in the future, higher than the global average of 28.3 hours per week in the future.
With the estimated increase in hours expected for unpaid carers, it is also important that employers are understanding and support the carers in their workforces, however, three in five employed unpaid carers surveyed felt their employer does not support their needs to be a caregiver/carer.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Supporting the mental wellbeing of everyone during this difficult time is a priority for the government and we have backed our mental health recovery plan with £500m to ensure everyone receives the world-class help they need.
‘We recognise the vital role that unpaid carers have played throughout the pandemic and we have, provided funding for the Carers UK phoneline, prioritised vaccinations and PPE as well as testing.
‘Through the government-backed Infection Control Fund, we have provided funding to local authorities to help daycare services reopen safely or be adapted to work in a covid-secure way.’
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