Two people walking on a street Two people walking on a street

Key areas: Care and support

Care and support

We all rely on care from others as we begin our lives. Some of us need care throughout our lives, because of disabilities, and some of us need care as we grow older and less capable of managing daily activities such as shopping, cleaning and feeding ourselves.

Many of us will also, at some point, provide unpaid care to others. Many people make a positive choice to take on caring responsibilities, and consider it rewarding and fulfilling. Some feel that their choice is constrained. In both cases the evidence suggests that unpaid care can have an impact on the job prospects, income and health of those who provide it; and different groups of people are more likely, at certain points in their life, to need, and to provide, certain types of care.

Throughout their lives, women are much more likely than men to take on unpaid care responsibilities both for children, and for older people. Men are more likely than women to lack the practical support that meets their needs as they get older.

Different ethnic groups draw on different forms of care to different extents. Black children are more likely to be in formal childcare than others; Bangladeshi and Pakistani children are much less likely. Meanwhile, Bangladeshi and Pakistani
people are significantly more likely than average to provide informal paid care (more than twice as likely as White people). Some literature suggests that this may, in part, be because formal care services are not always appropriate to meet the particular needs of some ethnic minority groups.

As might be expected, we are more likely to need care as we grow older. We are also more likely to provide it later in life, as we have children and as our families and friends age with us. However, evidence suggests that there are also a significant number of younger carers – some 175,000 aged under 18 in 2001 – whose needs are less well recognised than adult carers’. A disproportionate number of these young carers are from certain ethnic minority backgrounds (including Bangladeshi, Black African and Black Caribbean and Pakistani).

Among disabled adults, those living alone and those on lower incomes are more likely than average to have unmet needs. Partners and spouses often play an important role in supporting disabled adults, as do disabled people themselves. In 2001, of the nearly 2 million people aged 16-74 who are permanently sick or disabled, over a quarter of a million provided some unpaid care for other people. The parents of disabled children, meanwhile, provide care well in excess of other parents, and this has an accordingly greater impact on their ability to take on paid work: 16% of mothers of disabled children are in paid employment, compared with 61% of all mothers. Parents with disabled children also tend to use less childcare. It is unclear whether this is through a positive choice, or because of a lack of appropriate and affordable places.

Finally, there is a strong socio-economic dimension to caring. People from lower socio-economic groups are more likely both to need care and to provide it, at any age. Better-off people are more likely to use formal childcare, and people on low incomes, non-working parents and single parents are less likely to use formal childcare.

There are few large-scale surveys that capture the different experiences of people of different religions, though some studies indicate that Muslim women may face particular difficulties in accessing childcare. Similarly, there are few large-scale surveys that collect data on the different care needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people, though some smaller studies suggest that some older LGB people find that care homes fail to provide them with a supportive environment. There are even less data about the care needs of transgender people.

Significant findings and headline data

Significant findings

Britain’s demographic trajectory – in particular its ageing population – is creating new kinds of chronic disadvantage. Over the next decade there will be a steep increase in the demand for personal care for older people. At the same time, more people who might have cared for their parents will have dependent children. This often means a concentration of informal care provision falling on a relatively small group – the dutiful middle aged. Most carers are women although a significant number are also children.

Headline data

  • One in 4 women and nearly 1 in 5 men in their fifties are carers.
  • Some research suggests that women have a 50:50 chance of providing care by the time they are 59.
  • 175,000 people under 18 have caring responsibilities. Bangladeshi, Black African, Black Caribbean and Pakistani children are more likely to have caring responsibilities compared to White British children.

Significant findings

Some carers are people with health needs themselves. Critically, most carers are in paid work. A small minority of those in paid work have an intense caring burden.

Headline data

  • 225,000 people provide 50 hours of care a week despite suffering ill health.
  • 273,000 people aged 16-74 who reported being permanently sick or disabled in the last Census, provide unpaid care.
  • Young disabled people are twice as likely as their non-disabled peers to be caring regularly for other children or adults.
  • Of the 15.2 million employees in full-time paid work, 1.6 million provide at least some unpaid care; 144,000 people in full-time paid work also provide 50 or more hours a week of care.

Significant findings

The majority of families with children in Britain combine their own caring responsibilities with childcare provided by others. Early year’s childcare can influence children’s learning and development, with high quality formal settings having the greatest positive impact.

Ethnicity and lone parenthood are the two factors most strongly associated with the use of childcare. People from lower socio-economic groups and those with disabled children are less likely to use formal childcare than others. For those with disabled children, it is unclear whether the lower use of formal childcare is parental preferences or whether it is driven by a lack of appropriate and affordable places.

Headline data

  • Bangladeshi and Pakistani children are less likely to receive formal childcare than others.
  • Lone parents, non-working parents and lower income parents use less childcare, and when childcare is used, are less likely to use formal childcare. Parents with disabled children also use less childcare.

Last updated: 25 May 2016