This is the second in a series of blogposts that will look back at the 2011 census and ask what might be different this time around. Today’s topic is the huge issue of unpaid care.

A person provides unpaid care if “they look after or support family members, friends, or neighbours because of long-term physical or mental ill health or disability, or problems related to old age”. Unpaid care is a fundamental social policy issue for two main reasons:

(a) It is a big, and often neglected, part of care provision in the UK. To put some context on this the ONS estimates that informal adult care in 2016 amounted to around £60 billion worth of work – unpaid. The annual budget of NHS England is only £120 billion.

(b) Care responsibilities can impose severe constraints on the opportunities the carer has to pursue employment and leisure opportunities. In short, time spent caring for someone, however valued that may be, has a financial and health opportunity cost for the carer.

Our first two charts look at the number of people in Leicester and Leicestershire, respectively, providing unpaid care in 2011. We distinguish by the sex and age of the carer, as well as the quantity of care provided. Around 1 in 10 people were providing some level of unpaid care and 1 in 25 were providing more than 20 hours a week of unpaid care. These are big numbers. Around 1 in 50 people were providing more than 50 hours of care a week!

You can see in the charts that there are more women providing care than men. This is no great surprise, but the size of the gap is large, particularly in the 25-49 bracket. That inevitably has knock on effects for women’s employment and career progression. Someone providing 20 or 50 hours plus of care a week is clearly going to be limited in employment opportunities.

Our second set of charts look at the health of the carer. In the census people are asked to rate their health as very good, good, fair, bad or very bad. If we look at those people who provide no unpaid care then about 80% have good health, 15% fair health and 5% bad health. If we look at those who provide 50 or more hours of unpaid care then less than 60% have good health, 30% have fair health and over 10% have bad health.

The implication of these numbers seems clear – unpaid care worsens the carers health. We cannot infer causality from one chart but more detailed statistical analysis backs up this conclusion. To quote from a recent paper in BMC Public Health “Young people aged 16 to 25 who provided care at baseline (2014/16) were less likely to be in employment, had lower earnings from paid employment, and had poorer mental and physical health at follow-up (2015/17) compared to young people of the same age who were not providing care at baseline.”

By its very nature, unpaid care tends to fly under the radar. The census is, therefore, an invaluable opportunity to get accurate information on just how much care is being undertaken, and the consequences that is having for the carer. So, filling in the census matters. For more on our project about the 2021 census in Leicester go to the Leicester Stories Census page.