Millions of people in the UK have become unpaid caretakers for loved ones as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, new figures show.
Data released to mark the start of Carers Week on Monday estimate that 4.5 million more people are now caring for elderly, disabled or seriously ill family or friends as a result of the pandemic.
This is in addition to 9.1 million people who already cared for loved ones before the crisis broke out.
Six charities that support Carers Week are now calling on the government to draw up a social care reform plan and invest in long-term care and support services to allow unpaid caregivers to take breaks and continue to do paid work if they want to.
The charities also want an increase in the informal care allowance – currently £ 67.25 a week – and a “one-time coronavirus supplement” in recognition of the role unpaid care providers have played in the pandemic and the significant costs associated with care.
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Helen Walker, general manager of Carers UK, said the data showed the extent of care behind closed doors.
She added, “Unpaid carers are the pillars of our health and social care systems.
Still, many say they feel invisible and ignored.
“There are thousands of people around the clock without the practical support they would normally rely on to take a break, while others face higher costs of access to food and care products.
“The government should not take unpaid carers for granted in this crisis.
“It must ensure that their physical and mental health is taken care of, and it is imperative that after the pandemic breaks out, the government will rebuild our healthcare system to support caregivers and provide families with the services they need to live a better life. “
The six charities that support Carers Week are Carers UK, Age UK, Carers Trust, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Oxfam GB and Rethink Mental Illness.
The Carers Week survey was based on a YouGov poll of 4,557 adults, which found that 410 respondents had started to support someone unpaid since the coronavirus outbreak.
It also turned out that 774 people said they are taking care of someone at the moment and that they were already doing this before the pandemic.
Using Office for National Statistics (ONS) population data for 2019, Carers Week extrapolated that about 4.5 million adults have become unpaid caregivers since the onset of the pandemic, on top of about 9.1 million who already cared about them.
Carers Week also estimates that 2.7 million women and 1.8 million men have started caring for family members who are older, disabled, or who have physical or mental illness since the outbreak.
This will often help with food purchases, collecting medicines, managing finances and providing reassurance and emotional support during the pandemic, it said.
But some will have taken on “intensely caring roles,” such as helping with tasks like personal care, administering medications, and preparing meals, it added.
The poll found that about 70% of both unpaid caregivers and non-caregivers said that managing the stress and responsibility of being an unpaid caregiver was or would be the greatest challenge in caring.
It was also found that around two-thirds of people did not believe that unpaid carers had been supported by the government during the crisis and three-quarters believed this should increase support for unpaid carers.