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Elderly carers are themselves vulnerable

‘Invisible army’ of oldest carers, exhausted and worried, save the state nearly £6bn a year

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

An ‘invisible but invaluable’ army of the elderly are saving taxpayers almost £6bn a year by caring for their sick partners or children, Age UK reported this morning. But the charity warned that these carers are themselves vulnerable, as they are exhausted by the huge number of caring hours that they have to provide and worried by what would happen if they fell seriously ill.

Age UK found that over the past seven years, the number of people aged 65 and over who provide informal care for another person has climbed from nearly 1.7 million to more than 2 million. The number of those of 80 and older who provide care has rocketed by almost 39%, from 301,000 to 417,000, with one in seven of this age group now providing some form of care to family and friends. In most cases, they are caring for a spouse or partner as they try to maintain independent living for as long as they can, though in some cases they are caring for disabled adult children.

Age UK estimated that 760,000 of the over-80s will be carers by 2030. The charity said that in providing unpaid care these elderly carers are between them already saving the health and social care system £5.9bn a year. However, the impact on them is considerable.

More than half (144,000) of the over-80s who care for someone in their home are doing so for more than 35 hours a week – and an additional 156,000 provide more than 20 hours’ care a week.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of over-80s who are caring, many of them virtually full-time, saving the country nearly £6bn a year in the process. More of that money needs spending on supporting them, as well as the people they look after ... [Most] tell us they care because they want to and are committed to, but they also often say they see no alternative. Many admit to being exhausted and worried about how long they can carry on, and the consequences if they become seriously ill themselves.”

She went on: “As public funding falls further and further behind the growing demand for care we worry that very old people are being expected to fill the gap. They can’t do it all on their own and we shouldn’t take advantage of their determination to do right by those they love.”

Emily Holzhausen OBE, director of policy at Carers UK, added: “Our ageing population calls for greater investment now, from Government, social care services and the NHS to meet the increasing demand for care but also support the rapidly expanding numbers of older people who are themselves providing care. Action is urgently needed to ensure that older carers have the support they need and are not left caring alone by shrinking support services.”

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