The majority of care for ill, older and disabled people is provided not by doctors, nurses or care workers but by family and friends.
More people are caring for a loved one than ever before, with one in eight people providing unpaid care to loved ones. From taking a partner with an illness to hospital appointments, to helping a disabled sibling with washing and dressing, to caring full time for an elderly parent, we are, increasingly, a nation of carers.
This is reflected in newÂ Carers UK research showing the enormous and growing value of carers support, now worth Â£132bn per year â€“ more than double its value in 2001. This figure is calculated by adding up all of the care provided by carers and working out the cost of the state providing the same amount of support.
To put that unprecedented figure of Â£132bn in some context, it is more than the value of HSBC Holdings, or Visa plc. It is more than the GDP of New Zealand. A whopping 660 times the cost of the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, (theÂ most expensive Bond film ever made) and, significantly, the cost of a second NHS, whichÂ spent Â£113bn in 2014/15.
Setting out the value of care in stark financial terms is fraught with difficulty. Of course, nothing can quantify the love and affection of a caring relationship. But it is important to demonstrate carersâ€™ extraordinary and often hidden, contribution, and highlight just how heavily our health and care system is relying on unpaid care.
So, what is driving the increase in the value of care?
One factor is our rapidly ageing population and longer life expectancies for those born with disabilities and surviving serious illness. This demographic change means that the numbers of those in need of care and support is beginning to exceed the numbers of working age family members able to provide it. Another factor is the cuts to social security and local care services, meaning carers and the people they care for are receiving less support.
The combination of these issues means that, quite simply, more people are caring for more hours. This is reflected in the rapidly growing number of people caring around the clock. Since 2001, the number of people providing between 20 and 49 hours of care a week has increased by 43% and those providing 50 hours of care or more a week has increased by a third.
For this dramatic increase in caring to be sustainable it is critical that carers receive the right support. If carers arenâ€™t supported to care well for both themselves and their loved ones, theÂ NHSÂ and other public services are forced to step in. With budgets already stretched to their limits, this would bring them to their knees.
Yet we already know that too many carers are experiencing difficulties. They are struggling to make ends meet financially, to receive the right support from employers to carry on working. And they are struggling with a lack of adequate, sufficient or affordable care services.
The government has helped to establish new rights for carers and has also committed to publishing a newÂ Carers Strategy. But this will be undermined if the upcomingÂ spending reviewÂ does not put in place more and better support for carers by addressing the crisis in social care funding, increasing support for carers and introducing more rights for working carers.
Nearest tube: Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station: Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle: ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45