More pensioners forced into unpaid care for elderly spouses

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Pensioners now provide loved ones with the highest hours of unpaid care per week, analysis of the 2021 census has found. Women aged between 75 to 79 years and men aged between 85 to 89 years are more likely to spend 50 hours or more offering devoted care than all other age groups.

Shockingly, there has been an increase in the number of very old women aged 85 years-plus taking on the burden of caring for a loved one at home – 6.3 per cent in 2021 compared to 5.9 per cent in the 2011 census.

This is despite a slight drop in the overall numbers of people caring for loved ones at home in England in 2021 compared with the 2011 census.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “It’s alarming there are more women over 85 years old providing unpaid care, especially when there has been a slight decrease in unpaid carers across every other age group.

“At a point in life where they can do less than they once could and likely dealing with health problems of their own, this group must be better supported to care.

“Similarly, given those over 70 are most likely to be providing 50 hours or more of unpaid care per week, it’s imperative the Government delivers the funding our social care system so desperately needs so that these older carers can get support and necessary breaks.

“It’s less surprising that those aged 50-59 are most likely to care overall, but they too need help.

“During a cost-of-living crisis, and at a time when the Government is encouraging over 50s to re-enter the workforce, they must consider the needs of this group.”

The highest proportion of unpaid carers in the older age groups live in Nottinghamshire, showed the data, released by the Office for National Statistics yesterday (MON).

Almost one in five (19.7 per cent) of people aged 50-54 and 21.8 per cent of 55-59-year-olds who live in Mansfield care for others.

And Ashfield, also in Nottinghamshire is top for people aged 60-64 (20.8 per cent) and 65-69 (15.3 per cent).

Bolsover, Derbyshire is top for those aged 70-74 (14.1 per cent) and 75-79 (13.1 per cent).

Amber Valley in Derbyshire has the highest for 80 to 84-year-olds (12.6 per cent), Brentwood in Essex is highest for 85 to 89-year-olds (10.8 per cent) and Rutland in the East Midlands is highest for people aged 90-plus caring for other at 8.5 per cent).

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Many older carers admit to being exhausted and worried about how long they can continue, and the consequences if they become seriously ill themselves.

“They are all too often being left to shoulder an enormous amount of responsibility and hard work, without any prospect of a real break.

“As public funding for care completely fails to keep up with the increased demand for support from growing numbers of older and disabled people, we worry that very old people are having to fill the gap.

“They can’t do it all on their own, they need more help, and we shouldn’t take advantage of their determination to do right by those they love.”

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the Union of Shop Distributive & Allied Workers (Usdaw), said: “The vast majority of care in the UK is provided by family and friends and it is no surprise to use that it is mainly older women workers who are stepping in to fill the gap.

“Without their willingness and ability to provide care, local authority social services and the NHS would collapse under the strain.

“All too often carers feel life is a pressure cooker of competing demands, with worries about money, time off work, their own health and that of the person they are caring for.”

Overall there were approximately 4.7m unpaid carers in England and 310,000 in Wales at the time of the census in March 2021.

That is the equivalent of 8.9 per cent and 10.5 per cent of the usual resident population aged five and over.

In every region of England, the proportion of people doing unpaid care is highest in the 55 to 59-year-old age group, ranging from 17.9 per cent in north-east England to 14.1 per cent in London.

And the proportion rises to as high as one in four in a few places when looking only at women unpaid carers.

The highest proportion of 55 to 59-year-olds of both sexes caring for loved ones are in Mansfield in Nottinghamshire (21.8 per cent), followed by St Helens in Merseyside (20.5 per cent), Gedling in Nottinghamshire (20.4 per cent), Ashfield in Nottinghamshire (20.3 per cent) and Bolsover in Derbyshire (19.7 per cent).

The lowest proportions are all in London, starting with Kensington & Chelsea (11.5 per cent), then Newham (12.2 per cent), City of London & Westminster (12.3 per cent), Southwark (12.4 per cent) and Hammersmith & Fulham (12.6 per cent).

There is a similar trend among the 60-64 age group, with areas of the East Midlands again dominating the highest rankings: Ashfield (20.8 per cent), Gedling (19.8 per cent), Mansfield (19.4 per cent), Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire (19.1 per cent) and Blaby in Leicestershire (18.9 per cent).

All but one of the lowest five areas for this age group are in London, with Lambeth the lowest at 11.9 per cent, followed by Kensington & Chelsea (11.9 per cent), Slough in Berkshire (12 per cent), Hammersmith & Fulham (12.2 per cent) and City of London & Westminster (12.2 per cent).

When looking solely at women unpaid carers, around a quarter of 55 to 59-year-olds in Mansfield are likely to provide unpaid care (25.2 per cent), with similarly high levels in Gedling (24.5 per cent) and St Helens (24.3 per cent).

Areas in north-west England tend to have the highest proportion of unpaid carers among younger age groups, while the East Midlands has the highest among many of the older age groups.

Halton in Cheshire tops the list for five to 17-year-olds (2.7 per cent) as well as people aged 25-29 (8.4 per cent) and 30-34 (10.3 per cent).

Knowsley in Merseyside is top for people aged 18-24 (8.2 per cent), 40-44 (13.9 per cent) and 45-49 (16.8 per cent).

Tendring in Essex has the highest proportion for 35–39-year-olds (12.1 per cent).

The census was completed by more than 24m households across England and Wales on March 21 2021.

It takes place across the UK every 10 years and provides the most accurate estimate of all the people and households in the country.

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