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Unpaid care has huge mental health impact and disproportionately affects low income households across Europe, report shows

Unpaid care has a huge impact on mental health and is more likely to be provided by people from low income households, a landmark Europe-wide study has shown.

The Eurocare research, published on 29 May, examined unpaid care provided by people of all ages across Europe. It was carried out by University College London and St George’s, University of London, with support from UK charity Carers Trust and research teams in Spain, Norway and Germany.

It showed around one in 10 people aged 15 to 29 across Europe are carers. More than a quarter (27%) of these young adult carers come from households ranked in the bottom fifth for income.

Their mental health also deteriorates after becoming a carer and the impact increases the more hours they spend caring, showing the urgent need for early identification and intervention to support them. Those who are providing more than 20 hours of unpaid care per week are more than 96% more likely to report poor mental health compared to their peers.

Young adult carers’ education and future employment are also affected and, in the UK, there are stark inequalities in educational attainment. Young adult carers are 38% less likely than their peers to hold a university degree as their highest qualification. This rises to a staggering 86% for those who provide more than 35 hours of care per week.

Dr Rebecca Lacey from St George's, University of London, said:

"Our research shows the significant impact that being a young adult carer can have on a young  person’s life. Many carer organisations and charities will know the inequality that young adult carers face but through this research we have helped to evidence and quantify that difference. It is a gap that is sadly substantial, particularly for young adult carers who provide significant hours of care. We really hope that this will help to pave the way for better support for young adult carers."

For people aged 30-49 in the UK, unpaid care is also linked to worsening mental health and the effects persist for years after care starts. The impact is more pronounced for women compared to men, the research showed.

Carers in this age bracket are also more likely to come from disadvantaged households. Of those ranked in the lowest two-fifths of the population for household income, 17% were carers. This compared to just 12% of those in the richest fifth of the population. The researchers concluded that support must be ramped up with financial assistance programmes, carer tax credits and social safety nets for low-income carers.

The research also showed that older carers are more likely to report loneliness. It recommended increased support for their mental health and wellbeing, including access to counselling services, community engagement, social support networks and mental health screening programmes.

Anne McMunn, Co-ordinator of the Eurocare project based at UCL, said:

“Our partnership with Carers Trust has been crucial to the research for this project, informing the entire process from formulating research questions to interpreting and sharing results. Carers play a vital role in our society and need our support to stay well. We hope these reports will provide some impetus for improving that support.”

Rohati Chapman, Carers Trust’s Executive Director for Programmes, Policy & Impact, said:

“This vital research shows the significant impact that failing to support unpaid carers has across Europe. From young people seeing their future prospects blighted to ever worsening mental health and finances across all ages, the price paid for unpaid care is high. People shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice their own health and wellbeing just for trying to do the right thing by looking after family and friends, but that’s the situation faced by millions of carers.

“Carers Trust will use this valuable evidence to inform our work to support carers via our network of local organisations. But what the UK’s seven million carers urgently need is a cross-Government national carers strategy which focuses on identifying and properly supporting them throughout their lives.”


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