Unpaid care in England and Wales has equivalent value to a second NHS

New findings from charity Carers UK and the University of Sheffield found the annual economic value of unpaid care is equivalent to a second NHS in England and Wales.

The study found unpaid care in England and Wales is valued at £445 million a day. 

Unpaid carers are those who look after relatives or friends who have a disability, illness, mental health condition or who need extra help as they grow older. 

More about unpaid carers:

The chaos of unpaid caring while in employment, part one

The chaos of unpaid caring while in employment, part two

It's time to give back to working carers

The economic value of unpaid care in England and Wales in 2021 was estimated at £162 billion a year - 29% higher than the value of unpaid care in 2011. 

While the latest 2021 census data shows there are fewer carers in England and Wales than in 2011, the number of hours of care they provide has increased. 

Matt Bennett, deputy director of the centre for care at the University of Sheffield, said: “The economic contribution made by unpaid carers has increased by 29% in the last decade and paints a stark picture of the savings they make to health care budgets. Without unpaid carers, our health and social care systems would collapse.      

“In fact, our work shows that people are providing more hours of unpaid care than ever before.” 

As explored in the HR magazine’s March/April 2023 cover story, caring responsibilities can deeply impact people's careers. 

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said that support from employers is vital in helping unpaid carers balance their responsibilities. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Open conversations about caring commitments with line managers, flexible working arrangements and implementing five days of carer’s leave can help employees with caring responsibilities feel valued and supported to remain in work.”  

The first step for any employer is to review what practical support can be provided from within the existing employee benefits and remuneration packages. 

Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at insurance advisory Partners&, said flexibility is essential to working carers.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "Employees doubling as unpaid working carers often value – and indeed really need – flexible working locations and/or hours to successfully undertake both roles. 

"A regular review of any declined flexible working requests to see if a better solution can be found would also be recommended." 

Herbert says traditional employee benefits can also offer practical support.

He said: "Employee Assistance Plans (EAP), remote GP appointments, financial wellbeing support, health cashplans, and private healthcare all offer practical support to employees, and may be even more valuable to working carers given the additional stresses of these dual roles. 

"HR experts should highlight all the support options available, and if possible, extend that support across the employee’s family grouping also."

Walker says the government also needs to step up. 

She said: “We are keenly supporting the Carer’s Leave Bill, currently progressing through the House of Lords, which, if successful, will see the introduction of a statutory right for carers up to a week of unpaid leave.  

“This will be a huge step forward in helping carers manage the pressures of juggling work and care as well as helping employers retain and recruit staff.”