UK censuses happen every 10 years[1]. Since 2001, they’ve included a question on (unpaid) caring:

Do you look after, or give any help or support to, anyone because they have long-term physical or mental health conditions or illnesses, or problems related to old age?; and if so, how many hours of caring do you provide?”

Question 24 in 2021 Census- how many hours of care

This question enables the number of people who care for a family, friend or neighbour to be counted, and shows variations in the pattern of caring around the country. In 2011 it showed that 5.8 million people in England and Wales were carers, and that among them 775,000 people were providing unpaid care for between 20 and 49 hours per week.

Most people think the number of carers in growing, but estimates vary. Carers UK collected data in a 2021 survey that suggest a big increase during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2021 census, on SUNDAY 21 MARCH 2021, will provide a vital update. That day, every carer can be counted.  So if you look after, or give any help or support, to someone in your family or someone you know, make sure you are counted!

With some of CIRCLE’s partners, we’ve been awarded a small grant[2] to encourage people who are ‘unpaid carers’ to record their weekly hours of caring in the Census. We’ll be talking to people in all walks of life who support someone they know to manage in daily life.

Is this you? It can be supporting someone to do practical things, like getting dressed, taking a shower, or preparing a meal; helping them use public transport or  giving them a lift to get to a hospital appointment; doing their shopping or helping them do their washing and cleaning. It could be helping them manage money and bills and to deal with paperwork. It can mean keeping them company, supporting them in tough times when they feel anxious or alone, or making sure they get some exercise, fresh air and regular meals.

To help people think about whether they should ‘tick the box’, we’ll be recording people talking about caring for others on video and what they do for others – their elderly parents, their disabled child, their husband who had a stroke, their neighbour who needs help with daily tasks, their partner with MS – the list goes on! We hope others will recognise these stories in their own lives, and tick the box to record the help they give to others in the Census. More accurate statistics mean better support for unpaid carers and more awareness of the vital support they give to family, friends and neighbours, because of a long term illness, a disability or for other reasons.

In our project, we’ll also show some of the ways counting carers in past censuses – first in 2001 and then in 2011 – changed social awareness of caring and influenced local or national policies on care. We’ll be interviewing researchers and charities about “How the Census has made a difference for carers” to show why reliable information on the number of carers matters, and talking to people in government and local authorities about “how the Census changes our understanding of how people care for each other in their daily lives”.

As soon as it becomes available, CIRCLE’s newest team member, Professor Matt Bennett, will start working, with other researchers and PhD students, to analyse the 2021 Census data and bring the facts about caring, down to very local levels, to public attention.

Get involved

Do you provide care to someone? Would you like to talk to us and be part of our video campaign? Have you used Census 2001 or 2011 data to make a difference in carers’ lives and the lives of those they support? To join our campaign, please get in touch with Sustainable Care Programme Manager Kelly Davidge at:

[1] The census has been postponed in Scotland until 2022 because of the pandemic.

[2] Public Engagement with the Census research, funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

UKRI Arts and Humanities Research Council
Economic and Social Research Council

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