Britain's fragile economy is losing more than £5bn a year as a result of a growing crisis in social care funding aggravated by the Government's austerity measures.
People are giving up an estimated £4bn in pay – cash that would have been channelled back into the economy – because they are being forced to leave work to care for elderly or disabled relatives. The Treasury is also missing out on £1bn of taxes they would otherwise have paid, while carers are claiming some £300m in benefits to help cover their living costs.
The "missing" £5.3bn is equivalent to more than 0.3 per cent of Britain's gross domestic product, charities warned. More than 300,000 people quit work in 2010-11 to look after relatives – and the number is increasing because of continuing cuts to care budgets, they said.
The extent of the losses to the economy was disclosed in a report from Age UK and Carers UK, building on work by the London School of Economics. They warned the problem would worsen unless ministers reversed cuts to town hall budgets that were affecting services and finally acted to settle the long-term funding of social care. Social services chiefs estimate care budgets have been trimmed by £1.9bn in two years in England – at a time when numbers of old people continue to rise – with the result that eligibility rules for care are being tightened and care charges are rising.
Recent research found that councils were cutting spending on the vulnerable by up to 10 per cent, forcing them to shut care homes and make social workers redundant.
Liz Kendall, the shadow Social Care minister, said: "Our failing care system is harming the economy because unpaid family carers are being forced to quit their jobs or work reduced hours because they can't get the help they need. The Government is completely out of touch with the care crisis. It needs to wake up and understand how improving care for older people and their families will boost our economy too."
Lee Murray, 53, lives in Dudley in the West Midlands. He is a full-time carer to his wife and son Edward, 24, who has Angelman's Syndrome.
"Edward can't read or write and his communication is very limited. He has no sense of danger and he's very lively – there's no off-switch – so you always have to keep an eye on him. Around 10 years ago, my wife took ill and could no longer look after our son. I was made redundant, and became his full-time carer.
At first I felt ashamed. For a few years when people asked me what I did I just told them the job I originally did – an engineer. I worked for 26 years without a break and didn't want to say I was on benefits.
Financially, it's a struggle, and most carers will tell you the same. I get £55.20 a week, and I had to remortgage the house to get a car to take Edward around.
In an ideal world, there are two solutions: either the Government should pay for full-time care so that carers can get back into work, or they should recognise that caring is a full-time job and pay a living wage."