Cost-of-living crisis set to cause unpaid carers extra pressure and distress

Two elderly people holding hands

Ipswich carer Julia says the role isn't a job and "if you don't do it, nobody else will." - Credit: Smart Energy GB

The cost-of-living crisis will heap increased pressure on unpaid carers in Ipswich, according to new research.

Those voluntarily looking after vulnerable family and friends are already largely stretched to the limit, juggling caring responsibilities with work and family life.

"It's not a job", said Julia, an Ipswich unpaid carer who did not wished to be named. "You don't have a choice. It's your husband, your wife, your mother or father. 

"If you don't do it, nobody else will."

Julia, who looks after an elderly woman suffering from dementia, said one of the most stressful things for most carers is paying the bills.

According to data from Smart Energy GB, 85% of the 13 million unpaid carers in the UK are spending more on energy, with 87% adding that the price cap rise in October will make it even harder for them to fulfil their role as a caregiver.

Research also showed half of working-age carers live in a household where no-one is in paid work and 1.2 million carers are in poverty.

File photo dated 31/07/18 of a smart meter next to an energy bill, as the cost of living crisis will

87% of unpaid carers in the UK said the price cap rise in October will make it even harder for them to carry out their roles - Credit: PA

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"We're reasonably privileged because my lady's pension will cover this", said Julia. "But not everyone has that. If she didn't, we'd be very worried because she needs a lot of heating. She can't put an extra jumper on. She does that anyway and she's still cold.

"Most people are concerned about normal expenditure, but we're talking about someone whose needs result in higher bills. For energy prices to go up, that is a massive jump."

However, with carers working voluntarily to look after family and friends, Julia argued: "You can't just say 'I'm not going to care for this person anymore'. This increased pressure won't lead to less carers, it will result in carers being more stressed, anxious, depressed and just struggling in general."

Further Smart Energy GB data showed the growing uncertainty and concern is pushing 43% of carers to start preparing for the autumn and winter months now, while 52% would like to, but don't know how. 

Seven in 10 agree that if they knew the person they cared for had accurate energy bills, they'd have more peace of mind.

Julia said: "Most of caring is about unpredictability. There can be support but it's about what you need to do to support yourself. 

File photo dated 29/10/21 of a care home resident holding hands with her daughter.

Julia says this price increase will only result in carers being "more stressed, anxious, depressed and just struggling in general" - Credit: PA

"It's about the little things. For example, we make sure all our lady's bills are paid by direct debit. We have a smart meter because it's one less everyday thing we've got to think about."

"Anything can happen so work on the things you can predict. If you can manage the predictable, that gives you more time to deal with the unpredictable."

Home energy expert and Smart Energy GB deputy director of specialist audiences, Philippa Brown, said: "We're talking about nearly a quarter of the population who are helping out a neighbour, a family member, a friend.  

"If you're really worried about your bills and you're struggling to pay them for yourself or a person you care for, do speak to the energy supplier and carer organisations. They have specialist teams that can help and there are grants out there.

Phillippa Brown smiling

Phillippa Brown, deputy director of specialist audiences at Smart Energy GB - Credit: Phillippa Brown

"But little things like smart meters really can help.

"Look at everything, make your list, see what you can do and work through it and that will help with the stress and anxiety you're feeling.

"It's such a worrying time for everyone, but there is hope and there is help out there."

Smart Energy GB are a not-for-profit, government-backed campaign who are raising awareness across the country of the benefits of a smart meter. 

Their research was carried out via a survey of 1,000 unpaid workers during May 2022.