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The number of informal carers in the UK is substantial and growing. Between 2001 and 2011, their number rose significantly (outstripping population growth) from 5.8 million to 6.5 million. Most carers are women (around 60%) and the vast majority (around 4.1 million) are of working age. Furthermore, the majority of working age carers (2.6 million) combine work with their caring responsibilities. Due to several factors, in particular the ageing population and declining investment in social care services, the number of informal carers is expected to rise. Estimates suggest they will number 9 million by 2037. The economic value of their contribution is huge – and the UK’s health and social care system is heavily and increasingly reliant on it.

This paper

This paper outlines some of the implications associated with the growing number of informal carers in the UK, the health and social care system’s increasingly unsustainable reliance on them, and what Government and employers can do about it. This is informed by the academic and grey literature, as well as a workshop we hosted in 2017 (in partnership with Simplyhealth) , which was attended by over 30 expert stakeholders from government and non-government bodies, individual carers, carers charities, think tanks, and businesses.

This paper is the third in the Health at Work Policy Unit series, Gender, sex, health and work, which explores the issue of health and work through a ‘gendered’ lens. This series focuses on areas where gender and sex have a significant impact on work and/or health outcomes. Other papers in the series include:

For more information, see our background paper and accompanying infographics.