Office for National Statistics
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More than 1 in 10 providing unpaid care as numbers rise to 5.8 million

Unpaid carers for the sick, disabled and increasingly elderly in England and Wales have grown by 600,000 since 2001 to reach approximately 5.8 million.

This is highlighted in a new Office for National Statistics study Provision of Unpaid Care in England and Wales, 2011 . The study stresses that the provision of unpaid care is an important social policy issue because it not only makes a vital contribution to the supply of care, but it can also affect the employment opportunities and social and leisure activities of those providing it.

The importance of unpaid care was reflected by its inclusion as an item in both censuses in 2001 and 2011 and made it possible to compare over time the dramatic rise in the number of unpaid carers over a national, regional and local level.

 In England there was a clear north-south divide with the highest percentages of care provision being in the North West, North East, East Midlands and West Midlands. Across local authorities the number of carers increased in 320 authorities and fell only in six. In Birmingham, the number of unpaid carers increased by more than 9,000. The highest increase in the extent of unpaid care occurred in the 50 hours or more per week category, which clearly places an additional burden on the work-life balance of those relatives, friends and other informal carers providing it.

Levels in unpaid care were higher in Wales for all categories (number of hours care was given) with more than 12% of the population providing some level of care in 2011.

Also issued by ONS recently was Valuing Informal Childcare in the UK  which covers all childcare provided by households (including grandparents and other relatives). This release shows that between 1995 and 2010 there was a movement away from informal childcare in the UK for children aged under 5 to formal paid care.  The report says formal childcare for the under-5s substantially increased and was 36.4% higher in 2010 than 1995.

Working patterns for parents (whether part-time of full-time), changes in the labour market, and government policy all have an effect on parents’ use of childcare over this time.

When measured using gross wages, informal childcare would be the equivalent of 23% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) .  The value of informal childcare is outside the scope of the internationally agreed National Accounts framework and therefore GDP. However, formal childcare is included as part of the National Accounts. It is therefore important to fully understand the extent of movements between formal and informal childcare, to aid the interpretation of the National Accounts.

Background notes

  1. The  Provision of Unpaid Care in England and Wales, 2011 refers to unpaid care provided to family members, friends, neighbours or others who have long-term health problems, disability or problems related to old age. It excludes general child care provided by household members for physically able children.
  2. Valuing informal childcare in the UK refers to all childcare provided by households (including grandparents and other relatives) and therefore includes general childcare for physically able children.

  3. Media contact:

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    Statistical contacts:

     Tel            Chris White      01633 455865


    Tel             Valerie Fender  01633 456 239



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