Media Release

Family carers propping up the care system – and paying the price

New research today reveals the growth in the number of people caring for elderly relatives – and the price they pay for caring.

The Social Market Foundation has calculated that there are 7.6 million people in the UK who provide unpaid care for a relative. That is 1 million more than in 2005. Almost 15% of adults now care for a relative.

Family carers are doing more care. Among carers, the proportion providing 20 or more hours a week has increased from 24% to 28% between 2005 and 2015. On average family carers provide 19.5 hours per week of care.

Family carers provide 149 million hours of care each week. That is equal to the work of 4 million full-time paid care-givers. In 2017 the number of people working in social care in England was 1.45 million.

An aging population will mean a dramatic rise in the number of people relying on relatives to help care for them. Over the next 20 years, the number of older people receiving informal care is expected to rise by more than 60%(1).

The SMF report, entitled Caring for Carers, was sponsored by Age UK and published as ministers prepare to publish a Green Paper on social care.

Who are carers?

The SMF report sets of new details about the people who are providing the care on which the country depends. Most carers are women: 59% of people caring for an elderly relative are women and 65% of people caring for a sick or disabled child are women.

16.5% of women provide family care, up from 14.9% in 2005. The number of women carers has risen from 3.75 million to 4.45 million, an increase of 700,000.

12.4% of men provide family care, up from 12% in 2005. The number of men providing family care has risen from 2.82 million to 3.19 million, a rise of 364,000.

Older people are more likely to be carers. 26% of women aged 55 – 59 provide care to a relative. Only 16% of men in the same age bracket do so.

After the age of 65, the gender gap on care closes: 19% of women aged 65 – 69 provide care, which is the same proportion for men of the same age. Among over-70s, men are more likely to provide care, generally for wives and partners.

Carers and jobs

The report shows how the jobs that carers do are changing, and reveals the impact that caring has on the careers of people in different occupations. People working in management and professional occupations make up the largest occupational group of carers in employment.

The only occupational social class where the proportion of women providing care rose was management/professionals: 19% of women in professional jobs provide care, up from 18% in 2005.

The proportion of women in “routine” occupations providing care fell, from 22% to 21%.

The report observes that:

• There are more women with caring responsibilities in the professional and managerial occupations.
• The number of hours of care that family carers provide is rising overall.
• The more hours of care a person provides, the more likely they are to reduce their hours of work or exit the workforce altogether.

On that basis, the SMF warns that without better support for family carers, significant numbers of women will end up being driven out of the professional and managerial occupations, potentially reversing recent trends: “We expect the labour market to become increasingly concentrated in the management and professional occupations and a failure to support working carers could lead to a reduction in the number of women in these roles.”

Caring and wages

Carers are more likely to work less and earn less than those who do not have caring responsibilities.

Among people in employment aged 40 – 64, some 77% of non-carers work full time. Only 61% of high-hours carers have full-time jobs.

Caring is associated with lower pay: Carers earn 13% less per hour than non-carers.

Women who care earn 4% less than those who do not. Men who care earn 15% less than those who do not.

The typical (ie median) man aged 40-64 who does not provide care has a gross monthly income of £2,584. The typical man who provides family care while working is £2,167. That is a monthly difference of £417, or £5,004 per year.

For women, non-carers have median earnings of £1,500 while carers earn £1450. The monthly difference is £50, or £600 per year.

Caring has bigger impact on male earnings because they are more likely to be working full time and earning more before taking up their caring duties than women – reducing their hours of work or changing job therefore has a bigger impact on their earnings.


The SMF report makes a number of recommendations for the Social Care Green Paper, several of which are aimed at “nudging” employers into offering more support for working carers:

• Employees should record the number of their staff who have caring responsibilities.

• “Care pay gap” reporting could be required, where employers would publicly report the pay rates of staff with caring responsibilities and that of those of comparable staff without caring duties.

• Big employers should be required to publish policies for supporting workers who care. Surveys suggest only 40% of large employers have policies setting out how managers should support carers.

The paper also suggests much greater use of “care navigators” to help family carers guide elderly relatives through the complex system of public sector bodies likely to be involved in their overall package of care.

Authors’ comments:

The report was written by Kathryn Petrie, SMF economist, and James Kirkup, SMF director.

On the importance of family carers:

Kathryn Petrie said: “Family carers are vital to the social care system, providing millions of hours of care every week and often paying a high price for doing so. Any reform of the social care system must properly recognise and support family carers and the challenges they face.”

On women and work:

Kathryn Petrie said: “More women with professional and managerial jobs are trying to combine work with family care. We know that carers are often driven to reduce their hours or leave work altogether and without proper support for these carers, there is a risk that women are increasingly driven out of professional careers, reversing recent progress towards equality in the workforce.”

On men and caring:

James Kirkup said: “While women still do most family care, more men are now caring for relatives and often paying a significant price as their earnings fall. Politicians and employers need to understand that caring affects everyone and take this issue more seriously.”

On employers:

James Kirkup said: “Growing numbers of employers want to talk about how they support parents at work, but not enough are helping staff combine work with caring for older relatives. ‘Care pay gap’ audits modelled on gender pay gap reporting could nudge employers to do better and keep more family carers in the workplace.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:

“This valuable new report confirms how incredibly reliant we are on the contributions of families and friends when it comes to the care of older people. Certainly they deserve our grateful thanks, but that’s not enough: the report shows many informal carers are losing out in terms of their work, finances and health. This is not only unfair but it is also unsustainable, and there is an urgent need for new Government measures to give them more practical support, help them balance working and caring, and mitigate their financial losses.

“The informal carers whom we meet at Age UK are usually deeply committed but they also often tell us that they are completely exhausted. Not only do they need more opportunities to take a break, they also require the back up of a reliable, effective social care system. When informal carers are trying to cope all on their own this is a recipe for burn out and the collapse of an arrangement which could otherwise work really well for an older person.

“The care system requires a big injection of funding over the next three years in the Autumn Budget, plus an ambitious Green Paper that looks to the medium and longer term. The extent to which the Green Paper recognises the needs of informal carers and comes up with effective measures for meeting them will be one of the most important tests of its success.”

“It would be dangerously complacent for policymakers to assume there is an infinite supply of wonderful people able and willing to provide informal care for their loved ones. For all kinds of demographic, social and economic reasons our current system of social care is living on borrowed time – it urgently needs transforming and in 2018 we must make a serious start.”

(1) R.Wittenberg & B.Hu, Projections of demand for and costs of social care for older people and younger adults in England, 2015 to 2035 (2015).



For more information or to arrange an interview, contact James Kirkup, SMF Director, on or 07815 706 601.

For Age UK, contact Liz Fairweather by phone on 020 3033 1718/ 07919164968 or by email on

The paper will be published at on Monday 16th July and discussed at an Age UK conference in London on Tuesday July 17th.


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.

The SMF is a registered charity and makes its funding public. This project was sponsored by Age UK. The SMF retained full editorial independence.


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