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The informal care economy – exploring carent power

08 August 2020 | 3 minutes

The informal care economy is worth billions. Carents play a vital economic role which is poorly recognised. Harnessing carent power could transform ageing for us all.

How many Carents?

Currently, there are no exact data about the numbers of mid life children caring for their elderly parents and relatives.   This is because the term carers is non-specific and includes carents, child carers and adults looking after children or adults who are living with a disability.

National statistics and surveys indicate that around 5.3 million people in the UK are caring for a parent or grandparent and 1.3 million of these people, often described as sandwich carers, are also bringing up their school age children.

The informal care economy is worth billions

Although national debates about social care focus on care homes and social services, the majority of care is informal and provided by family and friends. This informal care is estimated to be worth £139billion. Resourcing this care would require around 4 million full time paid carers.

Lost earnings

National statistics show that Carents are more likely to be women and that they often reduce their working hours to help their ageing parents.

Based on an average wage of £15 per hour and a loss of around 10 hours per week, Carents are each losing around £7,800 per year - that is almost £4 billion in lost earnings nationally. This has important implications for carents' long term wealth and social equality due to the impact that reducing hours has on income and pensions.

There are rising numbers of women working in managerial and professional occupations.

Ageing Markets

Our conversations revealed that Carents often manage their parents' finances and determine ageing household spend on home improvements, maintenance services, weekly groceries, clothing, gifts, legal and financial services.

In the UK, the grey pound is estimated to be worth around £200 billion annually and carents shape spend for a significant portion of this market.

Carents are generally aged 45-64 years and in the UK, the over 50s account for nearly half of all consumer spending.

Carents are also the ageing consumers of the future

Ageing products and services

Despite their willingness and ability to spend, carents find it difficult to access suitable products or services which could make life easier for them and their parents.

International research confirms this shortage of suitable ageing products and services. Although the Government is keen to address this gap, innovators struggle to involve older people because of their poor health and connectivity resulting in a mismatch between what retailers provide and what older people need.

Carents can help to overcome this gap - their lived experience and unmet needs mean that they are well equipped to help researchers, designers and retailers develop suitable innovations. Carents are also tech savvy, mobile, informed and motivated to contribute and can involve their ageing relatives.

Given the opportunity, carents can drive the development of suitable ageing products and services.

Social value in the informal care economy

Our Carents explained how they act as first aiders and care coordinators, safeguarding their parents' health and wellbeing whilst avoiding unnecessary demands on the formal health and care services.

Research shows that many Carents are either reluctant to rely on formal services or cannot suitable care options. With more support, carents can further reduce unnecessary demands on formal health and care services for older people.

For example, Carents are instrumental in help to prevent their elderly parents from falling in the home - unaddressed falls hazards in the home cost the NHS around £435Million per year .

Carents also help to manage their parents medication - reducing waste and errors. Wasted prescriptions cost the NHS £300Million per year.

By providing first aid and intervening in a crisis situation, Carents can also avoid unnecessary hospital visits and admissions - each emergency day in hospital costs the NHS around £1600

Carents are key players in the health and social care workforce - with additional information and support to enhance their capability, their impact could be even greater with benefits for everyone concerned.

Ageing wellbeing

Promoting healthy ageing is a national public health priority. Timely interventions during midlife and beyond offer great potential to increase wellbeing, maintain health in both body and mind and reduce the risk of losing independence in later life.

Carents are confronting the lived reality of ageing on a daily basis and are vital stakeholders ready to age proof their own health and lives given the right support to do so.

Unrecognised or realised potential

Carents are already providing good economic and social value but, with the additional support and opportunities we are advocating in The Carents Room, they could deliver dramatic benefits for millions or families and our ageing society.