There are now almost eight million people who act as a carer for a loved one after increasing by more than a third, a report has found.
Carers have told of struggling with poor mental health and poverty as new analysis reveals Britain’s army of informal carers has surged by 35% since 2001.
The Mirror has launched the Fair Care for All campaign after the Tories cut state funding for social care by 27% since 2010.
This has left 400,000 fewer people receiving professional help after cash-strapped local authorities tightened eligibility criteria.
Relatives and friends have been forced to step in and fill the void with many having to quit their jobs.
The report by independent think tank Demos estimates informal carers are saving the NHS £139 billion a year – but at a huge cost to their own quality of life.
Lead researcher Ben Glover said: “Unpaid carers prop up our entire social care system but have for decades been taken for granted by policy makers.”
Analysis of census data estimates there were 5.8 million carers in 2001. The report says this increased to 6.5 million by 2011 before drastically increasing to 8 million by 2018.
The Local Government Association estimates councils face almost £8 billion funding black hole by 2025. The national army of carers also includes thousands of children looking after parents and grandparents.
Carers UK estimates that 12% of the UK population are now informal carers.
The Government is yet to publish it’s long-awaited social care Green Paper and has done nothing to tackle the crisis since Theresa May’s aborted “dementia tax” plan cost her the General Election.
Barbara Keeley MP, shadow minister for social care, said: “The explosion in the number of unpaid carers is a direct result of this irresponsible and callous Tory Government’s decision to cut funding for councils which has seen publicly funded care packages drop alarmingly.
“The Tories’ relentless pursuit of austerity and their total neglect of funding the vital social care packages on which so many vulnerable people depend has heaped pressure on friends and families to step in to the breach, often at great cost to their careers, social lives and their health.”
Every year over 2.1 million adults become carers and almost as many find that their caring duties end.
This high turnover means that caring will end up touching the lives of most of us. Three in five people will take on caring responsibilities at some point in their lives.
The report said: “The increase in the size of the UK’s informal care population is one of the most significant yet under-reported demographic shifts in recent years.
“Given that our population will continue to age, we can only expect to see further increases in the size of the informal care economy in coming decades.”
Demos is calling for the £65-a-week Carers Allowance to be increased at least to the same level as Jobseekers Allowance to pull them out of poverty. The Labour Party has previously pledged to make this happen if elected.
Barbara Keeley MP added: “The Tories must follow Labour’s lead to end this social care crisis and pledge to invest an additional £8 billion in social care and to raise Carers Allowance in line with Job Seeker’s Allowance to give carers and the people they care for the support they so desperately need.”
The current Carer’s Allowance is not available to many in-work carers despite more than half of carers still being in employment.
As well as increasing the allowance, the think tank’s “Universal Carers Income” proposal would extend eligibility criteria to two million more carers.
It would cost an extra £10.2 billion funded by a 1% increase in National Insurance.
A Government spokeswoman said: “It’s right that we recognise the vitally important role carers play in our society.
“Since 2010 we’ve increased the rate of Carer’s Allowance, meaning carers can receive an additional £635 a year.
"Carers may also be eligible for higher rates of other benefits, including Universal Credit and Pension Credit.”
‘We are treated as cheap labour’
Jacqui Darlington is the full-time carer for son Joshua, who has a severe form of Down’s Syndrome.
The 26-year-old needs help with everything from using the bathroom to cooking and taking his medication, which he needs to stop anxiety attacks.
Jacqui, 58, was a specialist teaching assistant and then a nursery nurse but had to give it up after Joshua left school.
“We are doing a 24-hour job and what we get for it is a pittance,” she said.
“The minimum wage is all we are asking for. We are treated as cheap labour. If the millions of carers were to suddenly stop the nation would come to a standstill.
“They know we won’t because we love the people we’re looking after.”
Jacqui is a single mum and also has son Ashley, 28. When she was forced to quit her job in 2012 the family had to downsize from their rented four-bed house to a two-bed council flat in Rutland, East Midlands. Joshua has since also been diagnosed with autism.
She said: “I struggled to maintain a home, be a mum, a carer and have a career for just over six months before admitting this situation wasn’t working. I had become ill with stress.
“Reluctantly I gave up work to become a full-time carer but with that, I had to give up our home as I couldn’t afford to keep it. You just have to live on basic food and can’t have any luxuries.
"It’s easy to become isolated. When Ashley moved out I was having no conversation with anyone as Joshua doesn’t speak.
“I became very low in mood and the doctor said ‘You just need to get out’. Joshua needs help showering, brushing his teeth and I need to make him take his medication.
“He manages about four hours sleep a night and only that with medication. I’ve had four hours sleep a night for 20 years. It’s exhausting.
“Joshua is and always will be my beautiful, handsome son who I will continue to love, cherish and adore… even though I never got a job description.
"But then again, this is no ordinary job.”
‘This has to change’
Carers UK have long campaigned carers income to be increased.
Helen Walker, chief executive at Carers UK, said: “The amount of care provided by families is continually on the rise, both in terms of the number of carers but also the amount of care provided per week.
“Yet the amount of practical services provided through local councils is falling, with fewer carers receiving support to take a much-needed break and fewer getting carer’s assessments.
“This cannot be right and has to change.
“Carers UK has long been campaigning for better support for carers, including urging Government to provide carers with the right to paid care leave whilst at work and increasing funding for vitally important carers’ breaks.
“The Green Paper is a golden opportunity for the Government to act to ensure carers get a fairer deal.”
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