Lack of support for young adult unpaid carers comes at a high personal and economic cost

That this ‘free’ care costs £1 billion a year to government makes the case for supporting young adult carers
- Nicola Brimblecombe

The lack of support for young adult unpaid carers costs the UK £1 billion per year, as well as coming at a high personal cost to the individual, according to new research from the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre (CPEC) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Providing unpaid care negatively affects the employment prospects, physical and mental health of young adults. The research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, is the first to calculate the knock-on costs of these individual impacts to the government. 

Stemming from lower tax revenues, increased benefits payments and healthcare use; these costs are estimated at £497 million in forgone tax revenue, £357 million for welfare benefits and £194 million for health service costs.

The research is the first to draw on longitudinal data from approximately 7,000 young people  to compare outcomes for young carers, non-carers and those who became carers between 2013 and 2017 and to calculate the costs of caring to both them and the government.

Young people providing unpaid care to relatives at the start of the study period were more likely to be unemployed or economically inactive and if in employment, were on average £100 a month less well off than non-carers.

The impact on those who had become carers in this period was comparable to those who had been carers throughout, with similar costs to the individual and the government. Although new carers had lower reported levels of mental ill health, suggesting that long-term care giving adversely effects the mental health of carers. 

Nicola Brimblecombe, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at CPEC, and lead author of the paper said: ‘For young people themselves there are numerous negative consequences of providing care, many of which have strong potential to persist into the long term. That this ‘free’ care costs £1 billion a year to government makes the case for supporting young adult carers and preventing them providing care in the first place even stronger.’ 

Findings from the study also reveal inequalities in who provided care. Compared to their peers, young adult carers were more likely to be female, have lower educational qualifications, and live in social housing, indicating that the costs for individuals already facing disadvantages were increased further by providing care.

Care provision is an increasingly important issue in England, which has an ageing population that is living longer with poor health. This research highlights the impact of unpaid caring responsibilities on young people at a key period in their lives, when they are making the transition from childhood to adulthood and taking important decisions over employment, higher education and leaving home.

Policy on young carers and the Care Act 2014 and Children and Families Act 2014, have largely focused on those aged 16-18. This study makes clear that the costs for young adults and for the government of providing care extend beyond these years and reinforces the case for preventative action and the better provision of formal care services.