Sharp rise in number of unpaid city carers
THE number of people in Plymouth tending to family or friends has risen by more than 3,000 over a ten year period, a new study has revealed.
The study, carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), examined the number of unpaid carers across England and Wales.
It also concluded that unpaid carers are spending more hours helping out than they used to, and warns that they have a heightened risk of suffering from health issues and social isolation than the general population.
The ONS report is a cause for concern at Carers UK, a charity set up to help people who care for family or friends.
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"It is a worrying development and it is a situation that is likely to get worse, as the average age of the population will increase over the coming years," said policy and public affairs manager Steve McIntosh.
In Plymouth the number of unpaid carers has jumped from 24,058 in 2001 to 27,247 in 2011. According to the report, that means that more than 10 per cent of the city's adult population are providing some form of unpaid care.
Susan Darke, from Tamerton Foliot, cares for her 19-year-old son Kieran, who attends Dame Hannah Rogers School in Ivybridge.
"It's just a constant struggle," she said. "Things haven't got any better and there is a definite lack of funding.
"It's difficult because you think that they should put more money into it but everyone needs a bit of the pot.
"For example, we have just had our transport cancelled to the school so I am driving him every day. It's added money and added pressure."
Plymouth's unpaid carers are also spending more hours caring than they used to.
While the number of unpaid carers spending between one and 19 hours a week has fallen from 6.3 in 2001 to 6.1 in 2011, the number of unpaid carers spending 20–49 hours has risen to 1.6 per cent. And the number spending more than 50 hours a week providing unpaid care has risen to three per cent.
The GMB union said the figures represented a nationwide trend.
"We are worried about the fact that local councils and the national Government seem to rely more and more on the private sector as well as unpaid carers to provide health care services to parts of the population," said senior organiser Stuart Fagan. "Our experience and figures point to the simple fact that the best service provided is found in the public sector."
Plymouth City Council said it was aware of the situation and was addressing the issue.
A spokeswoman said: "We are in the process of reviewing the Joint Carers Strategy for Plymouth so we ensure everything possible is being done to support people who look after family or friends. We have also just increased our investment and commissioned an enhanced carer service where carers can get support, counselling, training and have short respite breaks."
But Mr McIntosh said local authorities and the Government needed to drastically rethink the way they viewed unpaid care – and come up with a strategy to tackle the rising figures which ensured that unpaid carers could stay in contact with the job market.
He pointed to what had been done regarding people providing child care to ensure that they could remain in paid work.
"In some ways it is good that people are getting care from loved ones they trust," he said. "However, we know that the figures for unpaid carers suffering from things like psychological stress or health related issues are about twice that of the national average. I think some of that comes from the constant worry of how they can get by and from the social isolation they suffer due to the number of hours they spend caring."