Media Release

Councils are helping fewer family carers, figures reveal

Local councils are supporting fewer unpaid family carers looking after elderly relatives and sick children, even as the numbers of those carers rises, NHS figures reveal.

The number of family carers supported or assessed by local councils fell by more than 2% in 2018.

The figures will be presented by Professor Sue Yeandle of Sheffield University at a Social Market Foundation/ESRC event where she will speak alongside Caroline Dinenage, the Care Minister, discussing Britain’s growing army of unpaid family carers.

The event, on Tuesday, will be the Care Minister’s first formal public appearance since the Queen’s Speech last week committed the Government to reform the social care system.

Family carers prop up the care system. The Social Market Foundation calculated last year that there are 7.6 million people in the UK who are providing unpaid care for a relative. That is 1 million more than in 2005.  

Britain’s ageing population means that the number of people providing unpaid care to relatives is likely to grow further in the years ahead.  Family carers often suffer stress, exhaustion, poor health and reduced incomes.

Since 2014, local authorities have had enhanced legal duties to assess the support needs of a wider range of carers. Those who meet the criteria should be given a support plan that can include direct financial payments and council-funded services.

But NHS Digital’s own analysis shows that councils are providing less support for carers.

In 2017-18, a total of 360,310 carers were supported or assessed by local authorities during that year.  That is a 2.4% fall from 2016-17.  

Many carers are over retirement age.  In 2016, Age UK estimated that there are 2.3 million over 65 who provide family care for a relative.  55% of them had a long-standing illness or disability.

Large-scale surveys show that long-term caring among older carers (aged 50+) is associated with reduced life satisfaction, a decline in the carer’s quality of life and higher levels of self-reported depression.

Professor Yeandle said:

“Carers – the backbone of our care and support system – face mounting pressures; some are desperate. Good local services, regular breaks and support to navigate the system can really help, but funding pressures on councils mean too few get the help they need. Urgent action is needed now to avoid further harm”

Professor Yeandle, one of Britain’s leading authorities on care, is the principal investigator for the ESRC-funded Sustainable Care programme, which is exploring how care arrangements, currently ‘in crisis’ in parts of the UK, can be made sustainable and deliver better outcomes. 

James Kirkup, SMF Director said:

“Family carers are essential to the social care system, providing millions of hours of care every week. They often pay a high price for doing so.  Any attempt to deliver a sustainable social care system must take better account of their needs. 

“Anyone trying to draw up a new social care policy should take an interest in the work of experts such as Sue Yeandle. The SMF is delighted to work with the ESRC to bring Professor Yeandle’s work to Westminster at a crucial moment for care policy.”


This SMF event is kindly supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a part of UK Research and Innovation, as part of the SMF’s and ESRC’s joint ‘Ask the Expert’ event series.

Details of the event can be found at

The figures cited from NHS Digital are cited from: Adult Social Care Activity and Finance Report, England – 2017-18


For more information or to arrange an interview, contact the SMF on 020 7222 7060

Hannah Murphy, SMF head of events: and 020 7222 7060

James Kirkup, SMF director:

About the SMF:

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets.  The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.


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