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Census 2021 data has shown the number of unpaid carers in Wiltshire has fallen between 2011 and 2021 from 10.1% of the population to 8.7%. However, of the 42,262 people who are caring for a family member, friend or neighbour in the county, the number providing a significant amount of unpaid care – over 20 hours a week – has increased from 14,544 to 19,330 people. 11,805 people (28% of Wiltshire’s unpaid carers) are providing more than 50 hours of unpaid care a week.

The number of hours people spend caring for someone is important because studies show that an intensive caring role can have a detrimental effect on a carer’s health, wellbeing, and ability to work.

The ONS said the reason the total number of unpaid carers may have fallen could be because of how the question was framed and the fact the Census was carried out during the Covid pandemic, when households couldn’t mix and people may not have been able to carry out their usual caring duties. There were also a higher number of deaths among elderly people, reducing the need for care.

Leanne Hubbard, Interim CEO of Carer Support Wiltshire says:

“We are surprised the overall number of unpaid carers has dropped since 2011. The wording of the question will likely have had an impact – in 2011 people were asked if they look after, or give any help or support to family members, friends, neighbours and others. In 2021 they were asked if they look after, or give help or support, to anyone because they have a long-term physical condition or illness, or problem related to old age.

“We were less surprised that the number of people providing large amounts of care to someone has increased so dramatically. This tallies with what we are hearing from carers. Providing more than 20 hours of care every week, often alongside work and other family commitments, takes its toll. Especially since the pandemic and with the increased pressures on the NHS and social services. Respite opportunities are vital to allow carers to have a break.

“The number of people providing 50 or more hours of care a week has risen by 24% in Wiltshire since 2011. We know that this sort of intensive caring role can have a severe negative impact on a carer’s health and wellbeing. It’s a lot of responsibility and often logistically very difficult to take the holidays and time out that most of us take for granted.

“We encourage all unpaid carers to register with us to find out what help we can offer. We are a charity and many of our services operate because of the generous support we receive from local people and organisations. We are funded by Wiltshire Council to provide some services for carers, such as our helpline and the carer assessment, which any carer can request.”

Suzanne from Devizes cares for her adult son who has had quadriplegic spastic celebral palsy since birth. She says:

“My son finally has a personal health budget to be used to pay for care, but there are no carers out there. Agencies, care homes and people who self-fund or employ carers are finding it difficult to recruit at £10 an hour. Unpaid carers are today’s modern-day slaves, being used to save the state money and are having to fulfil the hours to breaking point.

“Since Covid, carer breaks hardly exist and, as the person responsible, you have to assess the risk to your loved one of being placed in a care home for a short period of time.

“Paid caring is low paid and highly skilled with a lot of responsibility. Carers enable a person to be cared for in their own home with dignity and love. Unpaid carers do a very highly skilled job that has no recognition in society or the state. We can get (if we qualify) £70 a week Carers Allowance for covering 168 hours a week. At least you can say we are good value for money.”

Carers can contact Carer Support Wiltshire on 0800 181 4118.