20 February 2023

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Long before the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, millions of unpaid carers were already experiencing real financial hardship. As local authority budgets got squeezed over the last decade, many social care services disappeared which forced millions of people to give up work, or cut their hours of paid work, so they could stay at home to care for sick and disabled relatives who need round-the-clock care.

Last autumn (2022) Carers Trust launched a survey responded to by over 2,500 unpaid family carers from across the UK. The results were shocking. Almost two thirds of unpaid carers had either had to give up work altogether (41%) or at least cut the number of hours they worked (23%). Faced with the dreadful reality of having to give up work if a loved one is to be cared for properly, most carers have no option but to do so, knowing full well the incredible stress it will put on their household finances.

But the financial misery many unpaid carers were already facing has now been made worse by the cost-of-living crisis. Carers Trust’s 2022 survey, published in November, revealed how their caring role was pushing many unpaid carers into unprecedented levels of financial hardship and even poverty.  

  • Almost two thirds (63%) of unpaid carers are worried about being able to afford energy bills
  • 39% have had to cut back on other household items 
  • 29% have had to use a credit card to pay for essential household items
  • 26% have had to borrow money from a friend or a relative 
  • 25% have had to cut back on food 
  • 18% have had to take out a loan 
  • One in seven (14%) unpaid carers have had to use a food bank
  • 14% have not been able to pay household bills on time 
  • 9% have either sold their home or released home equity to pay for essential items

What makes things even worse for unpaid carers is that, unlike most of us, they can’t economise even if they want to. That’s because, if you’re an unpaid carer, you have to keep the heating on as well as specialist equipment so you can keep the person you’re caring for warm and safe.  

One survey respondent said:

“I am terrified that I won’t be able to pay the bills this winter.”

That is why the support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery to Carers Trust is so vital. Over the past five years People’s Postcode Lottery players have supported more than 90,000 unpaid carers, including funding grants for breaks, essential household items and group activities. Alongside that help, players have helped us launch schemes like our peer support programme to reduce loneliness and social isolation, something which proved very important during the pandemic.

Carers Trust's Executive Director of Policy and External Affairs Joe Levenson said:

“The health and social care system relies on the hard work of millions of unpaid family carers. However, a double whammy of lack of financial support and struggling local services means millions of them are being pushed into dire poverty. Unpaid carers have little ability to work and boost their earnings but still need to keep the heating on and vital equipment running so their sick and disabled relatives are safe and warm.
“Alongside our campaigning work to get a better deal for unpaid carers, the grants and other support programmes we provide can help transform lives. People’s Postcode Lottery players have been essential to this and we are immensely grateful for the contribution they make to help unpaid carers across the country.”

To find out more about carer services near you, visit the Carers Trust website.

Denise’s story

Denise Wilkins, 52, cares for her 86-year-old mother Maureen Shields who lives at home with her in south east London. Denise has been caring for her mum since the age of 14 when Maureen lost sight in one eye. Maureen, who has osteoporosis, has since suffered spinal fractures resulting in limited mobility and now cannot walk unaided.

Alongside her mother, Denise cares for her father Terry Wilkins, 89, who lives in Sussex. He has glaucoma, diabetes and also suffers from severe anxiety. She goes to see him twice a week and is on the phone with him three to four times a day.

Denise qualified as a chartered accountant, which she was able to do until her mother couldn’t get out of bed anymore. She can now only do occasional self-employed part-time work but otherwise they live on disability benefit and Denise’s savings. Her mother has no assets other than her state pension and Denise is worried about putting her into a care home because of the “horrendously expensive” fees. She is paying nothing into her pension which will cause her problems in the future and is struggling with costs like soaring heating bills.

The delicate balance of their finances mean unexpected costs cause Denise huge problems, so when the microwave she relies on to reheat her mother’s meals and the vacuum cleaner she needs to keep her parents’ homes clean both broke at the same time recently, she had to apply to Carers Trust for a grant.

Denise, who is supported by Greenwich Carers Centre, part of the Carers Trust network, said:

“Without the grant from the Carers Trust we would either have gone into debt or been late in paying the rent or other utility bills. The grants from the Carers Trust are a financial lifeline to unpaid carers.
“Some people would say a microwave and vacuum cleaner aren’t that expensive but it’s different when you don’t have any income. We’d have had to save up which would mean many months of not being able to clean the house and restrict what mum can eat. That’s the difference for us. Other people can work around these things but we can’t. Replacing those things is within many people’s means but for us we just can’t magic the money out of thin air.”