Caring and COVID-19
Hunger and mental wellbeing
This report by Dr Matthew Bennett, Dr Yanan Zhang and Professor Sue Yeandle, in partnership with Carers UK looks at carers’ use of foodbanks and experience of hunger in April 2020, and at changes in their mental wellbeing. It uses latest data, based on the responses of a large representative sample of the UK’s population collected in the Understanding Society panel study.
Unpaid carers twice as likely to have used foodbank during pandemic
Statistical analysis of data collected in April 2020 suggests unpaid carers are twice as likely as the general public to have relied on a food bank during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It shows that 106,000 adults in the UK currently caring for someone outside of their household who is older, disabled or seriously ill, have used a foodbank.
The analysis also reveals that, among this group of unpaid carers, almost 229,000 have had someone in their household go hungry during lockdown. Younger carers were more likely to live in a household with someone who experienced hunger; this affected 55,153 (12.2%) of those aged 17-30, compared with 9,294 (0.7%) carers aged 66 or older.
The research, carried out by the Universities of Sheffield and Birmingham in partnership with charity Carers UK, adds to an already worrying picture of unpaid carers facing intolerable pressures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research carried out by Carers UK in April showed that 70% of people caring for more than 50 hours a week are providing even more care during the pandemic, and 55% told the charity they feel overwhelmed managing their caring responsibilities and are worried about the weeks ahead. 81% of carers had to spend more money on necessities such as food and household bills.
Professor Sue Yeandle, Principal Investigator of the Sustainable Care programme at The University of Sheffield, said:
“Our new study’s findings should worry us all. COVID-19 has brought huge changes that underscore the need for a step-change in support for carers. That in April 2020, people in so many carers’ households went hungry and needed to use a food bank to have enough to eat must surely shock the nation. Our findings call for urgent Government action to help carers struggling to cope. It cannot be right that carers are hidden from view, with declining mental wellbeing, or face hunger and food poverty as they care for those among us who need support.”
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
“This pandemic is pushing unpaid carers to breaking point physically and mentally. The fact that carers are also twice as likely as the average person to be relying on foodbanks demonstrates just how difficult life is for them right now. It is simply unacceptable that carers are having to go hungry because they do not have support.
“Surely, when the majority of carers are providing even more care for relatives during this pandemic, and spending more to do so, they deserve some help? The Government must acknowledge the impact the pandemic is having on carers’ finances and job prospects and raise Carer’s Allowance as a matter of urgency.”
Carer’s Allowance is the benefit for people caring for 35 hours or more each week and is just £67.25 a week. While many costs have been relaxed for various groups of people, carers and their families remain under extraordinary pressure. Carers UK wants to see the benefit raised and is also urging the Government to provide a one-off coronavirus Supplement of £20 a week to those entitled to Carer’s Allowance – to match the rise it has made for those receiving Universal Credit to meet extra costs during the pandemic.
Carers UK is further emphasising the need for the Government to continue to bring forward schemes that identify carers and help them access food more easily where they have a clear need. It is calling for care and support services to be reinstated as soon as possible so that carers can take a much-needed break from caring, and have better chances of staying in paid work.
 The research team estimates that 10,991,440 adults in the UK are carers; of these, an estimated 6,048,286 provide care outside the household.