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Government figures show carers continue to live in poverty - here's what can be done

Ramzi Suleiman, Carer's Trust's Policy and Public Affairs Manager, looks at the Department of Work and Pension’s Family Resource Survey, what could be done to support carers living in poverty, and how to prevent them falling into poverty in the first place.  

Newly released data has laid bare the staggering levels of poverty experienced by millions of unpaid carers across the country. This will come as no surprise to unpaid carers themselves. They have been picking up the pieces of a broken social care system for years, with many forced to give up paid work to care. Findings from the Department of Work and Pension’s Family Resource Survey (FRS) have put into sharp focus how this is putting a huge strain on their finances.  

The comprehensive survey showed that 21% of households with an adult carer are living on less than the average UK income. Shockingly, 5% of those receiving Carer’s Allowance had used a food bank in the last 30 days, compared to only 1% of the wider population.  

Carers organisations have been warning for years about the devastating impact being a carer can have on household finances. Carers Trust’s 2022 survey of unpaid carers found 31% of respondents had had to cut back on food, 22% had not been able to pay bills on time and 47% said they were struggling to make ends meet. In the past year, Carers Trust awarded almost £640,000 in small grants to 2,477 carers. More than half that money was used to buy basic household items such as cookers, fridges and beds.  

All this illustrates that the social security system supporting unpaid carers needs a complete overhaul. Poverty across the UK, including unpaid carers living in poverty, needs to be a key issue in the upcoming General Election. Whichever party (or parties) forms the next UK Government, must take action by delivering: 

  • Nationally funded, locally administered welfare assistance schemes.  
  • A complete overhaul of the social security system supporting unpaid carers. 
  • Better support for unpaid carers to find and stay in employment 

Crisis Support  

The next government needs to commit to nationally funded, locally administered welfare schemes. Over the past 10 years financially struggling local authorities have cut Local Welfare Assistance Schemes. Since October 2021, the Government has funded the Household Support Fund with £2.5 billion, extending it in the recent Budget for six months. Local councils have worked with local carer organisations in our network to deliver some of this money, which has helped tens of thousands of unpaid carers access urgent financial support.

The Household Support Fund was brought in to help struggling families during the cost of living crisis. But we know that even when inflation comes down to pre-crisis levels, millions of unpaid carers will continue to struggle financially.

That is why it is vital that the next government re-establishes local welfare assistance schemes across the country. Those schemes will need to prioritise unpaid carers who are financially vulnerable.  

Social Security for unpaid carers 

Carer’s Allowance is inadequate and hard to claim for many unpaid carers. It needs a complete overhaul. The Government says it “was introduced principally to provide a measure of financial support and recognition for people who are not able to work full time due to their caring responsibilities”.  

But at £81.90 a week this is scant recognition given the responsibilities unpaid carers take on – often due to the lack of social care for the person they care for.  

To receive Carer’s Allowance, carers must be both providing 35 hours of care a week to one person and earning no more than £139 a week. This prevents far too many carers from working even part time, shutting them out of the labour force and forcing them to rely on a meagre Carer’s Allowance. When you think about the way Carer’s Allowance is set up, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Government is actively keeping huge numbers of unpaid carers out of paid work so they can provide social care on the cheap. 

The next government must overhaul the social security system, including Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Element in Universal Credit to prevent carers from falling into poverty in the first place. 


The FRS revealed that 25% of unpaid carers are economically inactive, compared to 21% of the general population. Only 50% of carers are employed either full time or part time, far below the UK’s employment rate of 75%. This enormous gap illustrates that action is urgently needed to support carers to find work, and then to stay in employment.  

The Carers Leave Act, coming into force next week and offering five days of unpaid leave per year, is a starting point but much more needs to be done.  

Most obviously, Carers Leave should be paid. Carers should not be financially penalised for needing time off to care. Secondly, employers need to offer flexibility to ensure people can balance work and care. This might involve employers having a carer passport scheme and will certainly mean training for employees at all levels to ensure they are carer aware and confident about how they can support carers in their workforce. And thirdly, there needs to be specialist carer support including carer leads in Job Centre Plus. Carers will often need specialist, tailored support to find work and should be signposted to local support organisations. 

The Family Resource Survey findings highlight the economic benefits to the entire country that could be realised if the next government takes decisive action on supporting more unpaid carers to find and stay in work.  

Parties, and all candidates standing for election, should bear in mind there are seven million unpaid carers out there. And public awareness of how unfairly they have been treated by the UK Government will only continue to grow. Parties that continue to ignore their needs are likely to be punished at the ballot box. 


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