From two incomes to none: What it really costs to be an unpaid carer

Figures shared exclusively with ITV News reporter Peter Smith show people who go from employment to being unpaid carers are around £10,000 worse off each year

For Kirsty Parsons, caring full time for her husband Jim is a full time job minus the pay.

She gets up at 6 o’clock every morning to administer the first dose of Parkinson’s medication. Jim then needs top ups at 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm.

Every day is this same routine, but every day gets harder.

Loneliness bites hard. Exhaustion due to the workload and lack of sleep is visible. Carer burnout is a common problem.

But it’s the financial pressure that is hurting Kirsty.

Kirsty and Jim both used to work full time and lived comfortably.

Kirsty and Jim were married back in 2002. Credit: ITV News

Then eight years ago, Jim was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease aged just 44. He had to stop working and Kirsty gave up her job to provide round the clock care.

Overnight they went from two incomes to none. Bills have been missed, debt collectors have already been at the door.

“I’ve started using food banks,” Kirsty tells me.

“I’ve sold my iron and ironing board on Facebook. I got £15 for that.

“It’s demoralising, it is shameful. It shouldn’t be - but that’s how I feel.”

Kirsty is just one of an estimated seven million unpaid carers in the UK. Now, for the first time, we can report the true cost of being a carer.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that unpaid carers save the government around £162 billion in social care costs. Credit: ITV News

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has calculated those who go from employment to being unpaid carers become almost £10,000 a year worse off.

We know carers save the UK an estimated £162 billion in social care costs - in return they are pushed into poverty. But a possible solution has also now also been published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

It’s called Paid Carers’ Leave, and it’s based on the existing package of Maternity leave.

That would mean new carers get 6 weeks off work on 90% of their existing income.

Then 33 weeks paid at least at the same statutory rate for new mothers, which is capped at £172.48 per week. This would be a significant improvement on the current Carers Allowance which is just £76.75 per week in England.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates this would cost about £400 but would be paid for by a combination of government funding and increased tax receipts with more carers being able to stay in work.

We asked the UK government if they would support the proposals.

In a statement, they said: “We backed the Carers Leave Act which entitles employees to one week of unpaid leave per year, which can be taken flexibly in individual or half days.”

Twenty-five countries already have a paid carers’ leave policy. The UK still does not.

And so carers like Kirsty are left feeling unseen, under appreciated, and unsure how much longer they can go on.

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