Social Care - Health Committee Contents

6  The needs of carers

The demography of caring

102. Most people who need care rely on family members, friends and neighbours i.e. informal care. Some estimates place the number of informal carers in the UK at 6.4 million; the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care estimates that 12 per cent of people aged 16 or over in England in 2009-10 were looking after or giving special help to a sick, disabled or elderly person.[97]

103. Some 60 per cent of informal carers in England are women (as are 63 per cent of those cared-for) and the majority of carers are over the age of 45. Around 1.7 million adults in England are the sole carer for their main cared-for person.[98] Carers performed a wide variety of tasks for the person they mainly cared for . They were most likely to provide practical help (such as preparing meals, shopping and doing the laundry) keep an eye on the person they cared for, keeping them company or taking them out.[99]

104. Identification of carers continues to be a major issue. Many people do not readily identify themselves as a carer, as Liz Fenton from the Princess Royal Trust for Carers told the Committee:

People who care for only a few hours a week, who might actually be making all the difference, may not identify themselves as carers. The biggest problem that we have in our sector is that people see themselves as doing something that is a normal part of family life, and not as carers. They may be the 62% who are carrying on quite happily. It becomes about making sure that people recognise, when they need support, that they are carers and that they can get the support that they are entitled to from being a carer. That is a major problem: to get people to identify themselves, let alone other professionals to help identify them.[100]

105. The Government has taken a number of actions on identification of carers. The Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF) is a voluntary incentive scheme that rewards GP practices for, amongst other things, identifying carers on a carers register and referring them to the local authority for assessment.[101] The Princess Royal Trust for Carers has stated that take up for this QOF indicator has been quite high (though this does not mean that all carers have been identified).[102] Carers UK, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and the Royal College of General Practitioners have also been awarded funding from the Department of Health to look at using carer and GP ambassadors to support early identification of carers on GP lists.[103]

The impact of caring on carers

106. Overall 62 per cent of carers felt that their own general health is good, while fewer than one in ten (8 per cent) felt their health is bad. Around half of carers in the Carers Survey stated that their health had been affected because of the care they provide. A third of carers reported feeling tired, 29 per cent felt stressed, and 42 per cent said their personal relationships, social life or leisure time had been affected because of the assistance they provided.[104]

107. Some 26 per cent of working age carers felt that their caring responsibilities had affected their ability to take up or stay in employment. Flexibility in working hours was the most important thing that would help carers who wanted to work to take up paid employment. However, awareness of the right to request flexible working from an employer was low.[105] When we asked the Minister of State for Care Services about the right to request flexible working, he told us:

In terms of flexible working, the conversations are with BIS and my colleague Edward Davey, who has been leading on the consultations around extending the rights to request flexible working, meaning that there is an opportunity to widen the numbers of carers who currently have access to flexible working in the future. Good progress is being made there.[106]

Supporting carers

108. The willingness of informal carers to engage with their friends and family members should be recognised and respected by the Government and the rest of the community. In return for the care that they deliver, the Government is committed to identifying carers and their needs. The cross-Government Carers Strategy identifies four key priorities:

  • supporting those with caring responsibilities to identify themselves as carers at an early stage, recognising the value of their contribution and involving them from the outset both in designing local care provision and in planning individual care packages;
  • enabling those with caring responsibilities to fulfil their educational and employment potential;
  • personalised support both for carers and those they support, enabling them to have a family and community life; and
  • supporting carers to remain mentally and physically well.[107]

109. Despite these commitments, the NHS Information Centre Carers Survey found that only 6 per cent of identified carers were offered a carer's assessment in 2010-11.[108] Some 67 per cent of carers who had been assessed said they had received a service of some kind as a result of the assessment. The most common services were equipment such as mobility aids (26 per cent), services for the person they care for (22 per cent) an assessment of the person they care for (21 per cent) and information about benefits (20 per cent).[109]

110. The most recent figures from the NHS Information Centre show that the numbers of carers being assessed has dropped by 3 per cent between 2009-10 and 2010-11. The numbers of carers receiving a service has also declined, by 2 per cent over the same period. There has also been a 9 per cent decrease in the number of carers receiving a carer-specific service. The number of carers receiving "information only" has risen by 7 per cent.[110]

111. When we asked the Minister of State for Care Services about the fall in the numbers of assessments and services for carers, he told us:

I am certainly not satisfied and expect both the NHS and social services to do more […] I certainly agree that there is an awful lot more that we need to do, and we will set that out in the White Paper. There are a number of things we are doing, and the strategy that we have set out provides that.[111]

112. The Committee welcomes the Government's recognition of the importance of support for informal carers and carers' assessments. The Committee is however concerned that the effectiveness of the policy is too often undermined by the failure of GPs, social workers and others to identify carers. The Committee believes the Government needs to find new and more effective ways to identify carers in order to ensure that their needs are properly assessed and met.

97   NHS Information Centre, Survey of Carers in Households 2009-10, December 2010 Back

98   Ibid.  Back

99   Ibid.  Back

100   Q 469 Back

101   NHS Information Centre, Quality and Outcomes Framework Achievement Data 2010-11 Back

102   Princess Royal Trust for Carers, Good Practice in Strategic Development, 2010 Back

103   Carers UK, New programme to improve GP support to carers, Back

104   Ibid.  Back

105   Ibid.  Back

106   Q 662 Back

107   HM Government, Recognised, Valued and Supported: The Next Steps for the Carer's Strategy, November 2010 Back

108   Ibid.  Back

109   Ibid.  Back

110   NHS Information Centre, Community Care Statistic: Social Services Activity 2010-11, provisional release Back

111   QQ 659-660 Back

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Prepared 8 February 2012