Working in collaboration with Carers UK and other global caregiving organisations, Merck has published the first large-scale global Carer Well-Being Index study, as part of its Embracing Carers™ initiative.
The study highlights the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on social care in the UK. Increased demands on unpaid carers have had a detrimental impact on mental well-being, with 7 in 10 (70%) stating that caring during the pandemic has negatively affected their emotional and mental health, significantly higher than the global average (61%).1 Over half (54%) said it has also impacted their financial wellbeing, largely due to paying for supplies and resources needed to provide care. Additionally, 49% of respondents stated that their physical health had been compromised.1
According to Carers UK, an estimated 13.6 million people in the UK have provided unpaid care during the peak of the pandemic2 and continue to do so. The Embracing CarersTM study suggests that 1 in 10 (10%) UK carers started providing care for the first time since the outbreak,1 however estimates could be much higher, which has also had a knock-on effect of their own work commitments and needs.
One year on and the ramifications of the pandemic and lockdowns on caring for loved ones is having lasting effects, with 77% of UK carers experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout,1 as well as more physical and emotional exhaustion than ever before. This reflects the findings that 9 in 10 carers (91%) are putting the needs of the people they support above their own and 4 in 5 (80%) feel they have sacrificed their personal life since the pandemic began.1 Among carers whose emotional health worsened during the pandemic, a third (35%) feel they have no-one to turn to for support.1
Why has the UK fared so poorly?
Although shielding restrictions have now lifted and lockdown is starting to ease,3 unpaid carers have had to take on more or new responsibilities, in addition to their own work commitments, with key resources and support services, including face to face respite care, being severely reduced or unavailable to them. This was one of the biggest challenges, for a third (33%) of UK unpaid carers felt unable to take a break,1 one of the highest in Europe, meaning that they themselves are not looking after their own needs while caring for loved ones.
With an aging population, the number of dependent older people in the UK is likely to increase by 113% by 2051,4 and the increasing challenges due to the pandemic, there is an urgent need for more structured support, greater access to services and funding to help unpaid carers who provide critical support for people with health and social care needs. The study found that British unpaid carers are not receiving enough support from the national (63%) or local (62%) government, higher than the global average (57% and 56% respectively),1 which needs to be addressed.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive, Carers UK said: “This Embracing Carers study is the largest and most comprehensive comparative global study of unpaid carers and highlights the true impact of COVID-19 on them. The last year has shone a light on the extraordinary support unpaid carers have provided, but this has come at a cost, with many experiencing severe emotional strain and burnout. Carers are in need of support and are at risk of illness as a result.
“As we move out of lockdown it is vital that the Government, services and all parts of our communities play their role providing support for carers to take respite breaks, improve awareness and understanding of the resources and support available to carers, and that carers get greater access to that support, whether it is emotional, physical or financial.”
Helen continued, “Although the pandemic has created challenges it has also provided some positive changes for carers, including workplace flexibility and the ability to take time off work with furlough. There has been better access to online appointments, the establishment of respite support bubbles and increased use of technology enabling people to keep in touch with loved ones.”
 The Carer Well-Being Index, Data on file
 Carers UK. Carers Week 2020 Research Report Available at: https://www.carersuk.org/images/CarersWeek2020/CW_2020_Research_Report_WEB.pdf (Last accessed May 2021)
 Gov.uk. (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do. Available at : https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirus-restrictions-what-you-can-and-cannot-do (Last accessed May 2021)
 Public Health England. Caring as a social determinant of health. Findings from a rapid review of reviews and analysis of the GP Patient Survey. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/971115/Caring_as_a_social_determinant_report.pdf (Last accessed May 2021)
 Carers UK. Juggling work and unpaid care, 2019. Available at: http://www.carersuk.org/images/News_and_campaigns/Juggling_work_and_unpaid_care_report_final_0119_WEB.pdf (Last accessed May 2021)