Social care expenditure in the context of informal caring

The funding of the social care system is very much up in the policy and political agenda, but it is seldom related to or put into the context of informal, voluntary caring. Let’s have a look at some numbers.

Public spending on social care services on people aged 65 and over, net of any fees and charges paid by clients, amounted to roughly £7.5 billion in 2010. This includes the assessment and care management, the placements in nursing and residential care homes, the provision of supported accommodation, home care and day care services, equipment and adaptations, community meals and other community services, as well as any direct payments.

We looked into the Survey of Carers in Households in England 2009/10, which reports the prevalence of informal caring –that is, excluding people providing care in a professional capacity. In this survey, carers are defined as those people who identify themselves as having extra responsibilities of looking after someone who has a long-term physical or mental ill health or disability, or problem related to old age.

The survey shows that around 8 per cent of people aged 65-69 provide informal care for at least 20 hours a week (the preferred measure for statistical reasons), and this figure goes up to 15 per cent among those aged 75 or over. Incidentally, only 3 per cent of informal carers look after someone due to old age.

Using the population estimates from the ONS, we estimated that around 1 million people aged 65 and over are providing care for at least 20 hours a week -equivalent to 11% of all people in this age group.

If we adopted the most conservative figure of only 20 hours a week (and remember that the survey measures ‘at least 20 hours’), we would estimate that in a whole year, people aged 65 and over provide around 1.04 billion hours of informal, voluntary care.

When economists are pressed to translate voluntary care in monetary terms, we tend to use the minimum wage, which currently stands at £6.08 an hour. Multiplying the minimum wage by the number of hours of informal caring annually provided by the 65 plus, we get a grand total of £6.3 billion. That is, £6.3 bn worth of services foregone by older people. Over six billion pounds that are not computed in the gross domestic product, and that tend to go unnoticed in the current discussions about the care system.

More to the point, it is equivalent to 84 per cent of total net expenditure on social care on older people. In other words, the 65 plus are generating for free services equivalent to 84 per cent of all the public spending on social care on this very age group. 84 per cent! And that’s a very conservative estimate…

Age UK are calling on the Government to reform the adult social care system. Find out more about Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign and how to sign up to our petition.

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