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Value of unpaid care in England and Wales now exceeds that of NHS budget

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Value of unpaid care in England and Wales now exceeds that of NHS budget

  • At £162 billion a year, the value of unpaid care has risen sharply in the last decade, increasing by 29% since 2011
  • The data highlights how the number of unpaid carers and amount of hours they support a loved one, differs by local authority areas
  • The value of care has increased across all local authorities in England and Wales

Our new research, undertaken by Centre for Care colleagues Maria Petrillo and Matt Bennett, finds that the value of unpaid care in England and Wales is now estimated to be £162 billion, exceeding that of the entire NHS budget in England for health service spending, which by comparison was £156 billion for 2020-21.

Following analysis of the latest 2021 census data, new research from the University of Sheffield and carers’ charity, Carers UK, found that the value of unpaid care has increased by nearly a third, from approximately £105 billion in 2011.

Millions of people provide unpaid care for a family member, friend or neighbour affected by long-term illness, disability, or those needing more help and assistance in older age. Most people will experience needing care, or become an unpaid carer during their lifetime.

Often caring around their own commitments such as employment and family life, unpaid carers receive little support or recognition for the massive savings they contribute to the UK’s health and social care system every year.

Without unpaid carers, our health and social care systems would collapse, that is the stark reality of the situation. Despite NHS funding increasing annually, increases to social care funding have not kept pace, so the system is now relying more heavily than ever before on unpaid carers to pick up the slack.

Our research shows that people are providing more hours of care than ever before, and their contribution to the UK economy now exceeds that of the entire NHS budget in England. There are estimated to be around 5 million unpaid carers in the UK, and it is obvious that they need to be recognised, not just for their contribution to society, but in their need for specific rights and support for the work that they do.

Professor Matt Bennett, Deputy Director, Centre for Care

The data shows how heavily the health and social care system relies on unpaid carers. About 12,000 people a day become an unpaid carer, and these people are often a lifeline for the most vulnerable in our society.

Even so, our estimates cannot put a true value on unpaid care; as it is often done out of love, and immense respect for the person needing support; and can be at cost to carers’ health, careers, social and family lives and even their financial health.

Our data underpins recommendations that can help the government and local authorities better support unpaid carers, and ensure those who often sacrifice so much for their loved ones, are valued and supported by the health and social care system.

Dr Maria Petrillo, Centre for Care

For the new report, researchers from the Centre for Care analysed census data to measure the number of hours people in local authority areas in England and Wales reported caring for a loved one, friend, or neighbour each week. Using information about the current wage rates of carers and nursing assistants, they were able to estimate the monetary value of unpaid care, and how this has changed between 2011 and 2021.

The research found that even though the number of people in England and Wales who identify as an unpaid carer has decreased slightly, an increase in the number of hours of unpaid care is believed to contribute to a staggering increase in the value of unpaid care in England and Wales.

As social care budgets are decentralised, and local authorities decide how to spend their budgets on services, this new localised data illustrates how unpaid care varies across England and Wales.

We hope the new report encourages the government to act urgently. It makes clear recommendations that policy makers and local authorities can use to review health and social care service provision across England and Wales and provides an opportunity to improve urgently needed support for unpaid carers.

Professor Matt Bennett, Deputy Director, Centre for Care


The report, published by Carers UK today (Wednesday 3rd May 2023), sets out 14 recommendations, in a call for government to understand the value of unpaid care and help it make changes to improve the lives of carers in such areas as:

  • Better rights, recognition and support from the NHS and social care
  • Support and rights in employment
  • Freedom from financial hardship, and a recognition of the in poverty and the additional impact and costs of caring
  • Freedom from discrimination and promotion of equality

About the authors of the report

In her role as Researcher at the Centre for Care, Maria is using the latest statistical and data linkage techniques to learn how socio-economic, health and other inequalities shape the experience of care and the consequences of these for groups and individuals in different places and over time. 

Matt is Deputy Director for the Centre for Care and works closely with Carers UK and the Office for National Statistics to better understand inequality and wellbeing outcomes for unpaid carers. Matt’s social care research (both academic and co-produced with Carers UK) has consistently featured in the national media and has been debated in the House of Lords.