Camilla Cavendish’s analysis of the reasons for the recent increase in the number of 50 to 64 year olds counted as “economically inactive” (Opinion, 17 September) does not go far enough.
Britain’s jobs ‘miracle’ does indeed ‘hide some uncomfortable truths’, but attributing it to the growing number of people in this age group now suffering from long-term illness, without wondering then who cares for them neglects the “invisible army” of unpaid workers. caregivers.
It is well known that hospitals are desperate to get patients out quickly and the capacity of nursing and residential care homes has dwindled. Home care services are increasingly limited to giving useful advice or information rather than practical support. The paid welfare workforce numbers 1.5 million and is comparable in size to the healthcare workforce. Both have suffered from a decade of budget cuts and, due to Brexit and the pandemic, vacancy rates are rising.
According to the Office for National Statistics, “Unpaid carers – usually, but not always, family members – contribute the equivalent of 4 million paid carers to the welfare system. Without them the system would collapse. .
Today, they are increasingly likely to be in gainful employment, i.e. to be economically active, in particular because the statutory retirement age for women from 2010 has been raised from 60 to 66 years old. For example, it is estimated that half of paid social workers care for a family member or close friend. The proportion found in the NHS Labor Survey was one in five in 2019, rising to one in three during the pandemic the following year.
The publication of further census results later this year will shed much-needed light on the number and situation of those who need care and those who provide it, whether paid or unpaid. It is to be hoped that in the future they will not remain hidden and uncounted behind closed doors, but will become more visible and valued in a wider and more caring society.
Emeritus Professor of Family Policy
University of Bristol, UK