Financial pressure on unpaid carers unsustainable

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

“I am anxious & scared of what our living costs will be in the coming months. I’m unable to sleep and worried about surviving” (an unpaid carer, February 2022).

Just under half (45%) of unpaid carers are currently unable to manage their monthly expenses, the latest research by Carers UK has revealed.

A UK-wide survey of 3,300 unpaid carers was carried out by the charity in February.

A further worry is that just under half (46%) of the carers surveyed also feel the oncoming increases in energy bills will negatively affect their own physical and mental health or that of the person they care for. Many said they were having to take difficult steps to manage their monthly expenses:

  • 58% have cut back on heating
  • 14% have already fallen into arrears with their energy bills

In the months ahead:

  • 42% thought that they would not be able to heat their home to a safe level.
  • 32% are worried they will have to use a foodbank.

The findings come as the charity launches its Under Pressure campaign.

Unpaid carers often face additional costs associated with needing to keep those they care for safe, providing extra care, nutrition, and support. It is common to have higher energy costs when caring for someone who is unwell or frail, to keep them warm, and to help manage their condition. Special equipment may be needed which can be costly to run and food bills higher because of nutritional requirements they may need. Transport costs can also be higher because the person cared for is less able to walk or needs to be accompanied to many different medical appointments.

One carer who responded to the survey commented:

“Our son relies on life saving equipment which must be constant and available at all times- i.e., a hospital pressure mattress, an oxygen nebulizer, suction hoist, air conditioning, heating and so on.”

Another said:

“Mum is bedbound with advanced Parkinson's so she needs the house to be quite warm especially when she is being bed-bathed, etc. but we can't afford to keep the heating turned up high.”

Gary cares for his wife Natasha who has needed care for four years following a spinal injury, resulting in him giving up work as a taxi driver. Gary said:

“We rely on Universal Credit and we’ve had to use foodbanks. I’ve noticed our food and energy bills rising sharply. Natasha’s medical condition means that our home must be kept warm. If it isn’t, she suffers pain in her legs and feet. I’m worried I will have to go back to work if I cannot make ends meet, even though my wife needs a lot of care.”

Costs for carers have been further compounded as day care and other services and support outside the home have closed or been greatly reduced since the start of the pandemic and Millions of families continue to provide essential extra care.

Almost half of carers surveyed were worried that the increases in energy bills will lead to significant financial hardship.

Carers receiving Carer’s Allowance or Carer Element of Universal Credit were often under more financial pressure.

  • Three quarters 75% were worried that the increases in energy bills will lead to significant financial hardship
  • A quarter (24%) are already using foodbanks to help them manage their finances
  • Nearly two thirds (64%) are cutting back on heating and a third (33%) have already fallen into arrears with their utility bills
  • Over half (55%) are worried that increased energy bills will mean they have to cut back on food

The cost of living has been increasing for everyone across the UK since early 2021, but in December 2021 inflation reached its highest recorded level since 1992 at 5.2%. The Bank of England has predicted it will reach 7.25% in April. Carers are more likely to be in financially precarious situations and less able to cope with these additional costs.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“We are seeing unprecedented levels of stress and financial worries piled on unpaid carers. Many were already struggling to manage their monthly expenses before the soaring energy prices and inflation increasing the price of essentials. Now 45% of carers are unable to manage their monthly expenses.

“Many are dipping into savings, using credit cards, being pushed into debt and cutting back on essentials to keep the person they care for warm and healthy. They are extremely anxious about how they are going to continue to manage. Nearly half of carers think the rising energy costs will impact on their health and the health of the person they care for.

“Carers are propping up our health and care system at a huge cost to their own personal health, finances and ability to stay in work. Now the picture is even bleaker, with increasing costs forcing them to cut back on food, on heat, and more than ever are worried that they will be pushed into debt.

“There is an urgent need for targeted support for unpaid carers now. Thousands more are being pushed into poverty that will have a lasting impact on their finances and quality of life.”

To ensure carers are supported during this extremely difficult time, Carers UK is calling on the UK Government to:

Increase Carer’s Allowance and other benefits in line with current inflation predictions for April 2022. Carer’s Allowance is set to rise by only 3.1% in April 2022, while inflation (CPI) is expected to reach 7.25%.

Immediately extend the Warm Home Discount scheme to ensure that it include carers. This is in recognition of the additional energy costs often faced by unpaid carers.

You can read the full briefing here.

Source: Carers UK