Unpaid or informal carers are people who look after or give any help or support to family members, friends, neighbours or others because of long-term physical or mental ill-health or disability or problems related to old age. The most comprehensive source of information about carers is the ten-yearly census. Some carers receive support from Herefordshire social services, and their views are collected in a statutory survey every two years. There is a need for further research to establish the true extent of unpaid care being provided in the county, as other surveys have produced widely differing estimates, particularly with regard to lower levels of care (between one and 19 hours per week).
Carers in Herefordshire
The number of residents providing unpaid care in the county is increasing both in terms of overall numbers and as a proportion of the population.
In the 2011 census nearly 21,000 people in Herefordshire were providing at least an hour of unpaid care a week. This represented around 11% of the population – just slightly higher than England & Wales (around 10%).
The highest proportion of residents providing unpaid care were found in The Slip (17% of residents), Greater Weobley and Greater Mathon (both 16% of residents) areas of the county. The highest proportions of residents not providing any unpaid care were found in Hereford City Centre (94% of residents) and the Putson area of Hereford (93% of residents). Data from the 2011 Census for areas within Herefordshire can be downloaded from the resource box.
In the same year however, the Herefordshire Health and Well-being Survey found that 19% of adults reported undertaking some caring activities. For the majority of carers (around 70%), these duties take up less than 20 hours per week.
More recently, the 2018 Herefordshire Quality of Life Survey undertaken by Data Orchard found that a third of respondents provide unpaid care to friends and family because of long-term ill-health or disability, or problems related to old age. 22% provide unpaid care for between 1-19 hours a week; 9% provide 50 hours or more per week and 2% provide between 20 - 49 hours a week. The proportions who provide unpaid care remained largely the same as 2012, when it was 34%. However, there was an increase in the proportion providing 50+ hours of unpaid in 2018.
The amount of unpaid care being provided mean more help and independence for those receiving care but there is no guarantee that those people are receiving all the appropriate help and support they need. The demands and restrictions for those providing such care also need to be considered.
Locally, GP surgeries are being encouraged to identify carers and document carer status on patient medical records in order to ensure that carers receive appropriate support from primary care services. However, evidence suggests that carers are still not being routinely identified and recorded as having caring responsibilities by their GP surgeries.
Carers are time poor, making it difficult for them to access services, find that their quality of life deteriorates, have less time to socialise and pursue activities that they enjoy. Loneliness and involuntary social isolation are more common among carers. In 2015, approximately 8 out of 10 carers nationally reported feeling lonely or being socially isolated. 57% reported that they have lost touch with friends and family members, and 49% have experienced additional stress in their relationship with their partner as a result of the demands of their caring role.
The Personal Social Services Carers Survey, which uses a different definition of 'carer' to the census, estimated that in 2016/17 23.2% of adult carers (aged 18 or over) had as much social contact as they would like, a significantly lower proportion than for the West Midlands region (36.9%) and England (35.5%).
An overarching measure of the quality of life of carers, based on outcomes identified through research by the Personal Social Services Research Unit, combines individual responses to six questions measuring different outcomes related to overall quality of life. In 2014/15, the carer-reported quality of life score in Herefordshire was 7.6; an increase from 7.4 in 2012/13 and similar to the West Midland Region (7.8), but lower than for England (7.9).
 2018 Herefordshire Quality of Life Survey results: Focus on unpaid care, Data Orchard, 2018.