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The True Cost of Elderly Care: A Family's Financial Stress Across the UK

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Oak Tree Team

19th June, 2024

The True Cost of Elderly Care: A Family's Financial Stress Across the UK

The UK is grappling with an urgent elderly care crisis. Over the past 40 years, the population of people aged 65 and over has surged by 52%, and it's expected to grow even more. With this rapid increase, more families are stepping in to care for their elderly relatives at home, rather than placing them in care homes.

A YouGov survey highlights this trend, revealing that 88% of seniors prefer to stay at home. They cherish their independence, control over their lives, and the ability to stay connected with family and friends.

However, the care industry is struggling. There's a severe shortage of professional carers due to low pay and high turnover. In 2022/2023, 28.3% of care workers left their jobs. Those with five years of experience earn just 7p more per hour than new hires, and 24% of care workers are on zero-hour contracts.

To address this crisis, Oak Tree Mobility explored the cost of elderly care at home. Our research highlights the financial strain families endure, from home adaptations to ongoing medical expenses. Oak Tree Mobility's findings emphasise the need for support for at-home caregivers, including financial assistance and resources to ease the burden.

Cost of Taking Care of Your Own Relative

Rising Numbers and Challenges

Between 2015 and 2022, the UK's population aged 65 and over increased by 8%. Projections indicate that by 2050, one in four Britons will be in this age group, significantly boosting the demand for elder care services. Unfortunately, the current care home infrastructure is struggling to keep up. As of December 2023, beds are nearly equally divided between nursing homes (49%) and residential homes (51%).

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The Appeal of Later Living Communities

"Later living" communities are emerging as a promising solution. These communities offer a middle ground between independent living and full-time care facilities, providing support while allowing residents to maintain independence. This trend is gaining traction, as more people move into these communities, attracted by the balance of autonomy and assistance.

Shift Towards Self-Funded Care

Despite increased state funding for care home users, there has been a 9.2% rise in self-funded residents since last year. This shift suggests that fewer people qualify for publicly funded care, leading to more families shouldering the responsibility for their elderly relatives.

Stable Home Care Needs Amid a Strained System

The number of people over 65 needing help at home has remained stable at around 2.2 million. However, the social care system is under pressure, with 245,820 adults awaiting assessment and another 29,570 waiting for care and support or direct payments to begin.

The Rise of Unpaid Caregiving

Unpaid caregiving has seen a notable increase. In 2021, about 1.4 million people in England provided care for 50 hours or more weekly, up from 1.3 million in 2011. Additionally, around 970,000 people provided care for 20 to 49 hours, compared to 721,000 in 2011. This trend reflects a growing reliance on unpaid carers, often family members, to support those with high care needs.

Financial Strain on Families

The financial burden on families has increased due to fewer care homes and the rise in self-funded care. Residential care costs vary widely, ranging from £600 to over £1,500 per week, depending on the level of care and location. Nursing home costs can be even higher, posing a significant financial challenge, especially for long-term care.

Hidden Costs of Unpaid Caregiving

Unpaid caregiving also has hidden costs. Many family members who become primary caregivers reduce their working hours or leave their jobs entirely to provide care. This impacts household income and can lead to long-term financial insecurity, including reduced pension contributions and savings.

Average Costs Overall

Caring for an elderly relative at home can cost between £23,100 and £61,200 per year. These costs depend on the level of care needed, the type of caregiver, and location. Expenses increase with intensive care needs and professional caregivers, especially in urban areas. Additional costs come from frequent care, medical equipment, and home modifications. Financial support from government programs and insurance can help alleviate some of these expenses.

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Costs of Different Things

Home Modifications

Making a home comfortable and safe for an elderly loved one can vary in cost. Simple changes like installing grab bars and handrails might cost around £1,000. However, more extensive renovations, such as adding stairlifts or converting a bathroom for wheelchair access, can reach up to £10,000. These changes are crucial for ensuring the safety and comfort of your loved one, but it’s important to budget accordingly.

Medical Supplies and Equipment

Taking care of an elderly family member often involves recurring expenses for medical supplies and equipment. On average, families might spend between £500 and £2,000 annually on essentials like wheelchairs, walkers, and hospital beds. These items are vital for maintaining the mobility and health of your loved one.

Personal Care Services

Hiring a professional carer can provide significant relief but comes at a cost. The hourly rate for personal care services ranges from £15 to £30. If you require part-time care, approximately 20 hours per week, you can expect to spend between £15,600 and £31,200 annually. This investment ensures your loved one receives the attention and care they need while allowing you some respite.

Lost Income

Many family members find themselves reducing their working hours or even leaving their jobs to care for elderly relatives. This can result in a considerable loss of income, averaging between £5,000 and £15,000 annually. Balancing work and caregiving responsibilities can be challenging, and it's essential to plan for these potential financial impacts.

Miscellaneous Expenses

In addition to direct care costs, families often face miscellaneous expenses like transportation, meals, and other caregiving-related needs. These additional costs can add up to between £1,000 and £3,000 each year.  Frequent hospital visits can lead to significant parking expenses. On average, hospital parking fees range from £1 to £4 per hour. This can quickly add up, especially for families who need to visit regularly. Keeping track of these expenses can help to budget more effectively.

Costs vs Wage

Understanding the financial disparity between the Carer's Allowance and the National Living Wage highlights the economic challenges faced by carers:

  • National Living Wage (2024): £10.42 per hour (for those aged 23 and over)
  • Weekly Earnings at National Living Wage (35 hours per week): £364.70
  • Annual Earnings at National Living Wage: £18,954.40
  • Carer's Allowance Annual Earnings: £4,258.80
  • Difference: £18,954.40 - £4,258.80 = £14,695.60

This means a full-time carer earning Carer's Allowance is £14,695.60 below the annual earnings of someone earning the National Living Wage.

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Costs vs Benefits

In the UK, financial support for full-time carers primarily comes through Carer's Allowance, which is £81.90 per week as of 2024. To qualify, you need to spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone who receives certain disability benefits. Additionally, your earnings must not exceed £151 per week after tax, National Insurance, and expenses.

Hourly Comparison:

  • Carer's Allowance: £2.34 per hour
  • National Living Wage: £10.42 per hour

Carer's Allowance is significantly lower than the National Living Wage, nearly 4.5 times less. This highlights the financial challenges faced by those who dedicate their time to caring for loved ones. Despite the emotional rewards of caregiving, the economic sacrifices are substantial, and it's important for families to be aware of the financial support available and plan accordingly.

Available Support

While the financial aspects of caring for an elderly loved one can be daunting, it’s important to remember the rewarding nature of providing care. The bonds you strengthen and the love you share are invaluable. To make this journey smoother and more fulfilling, consider building a robust support network, prioritising your well-being, and creating a comfortable home environment for your loved one.

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Build a Support Network

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Family, friends, and local community services can offer vital support. Connecting with other carers through support groups, both in-person and online, can provide emotional comfort and practical advice. Sharing your experiences and learning from others can make a significant difference in managing your caregiving responsibilities.

Looking After Yourself as a Carer

Your well-being is crucial. Make sure to carve out time for yourself to relax and recharge. This might mean setting aside a few minutes each day for meditation, enjoying a hobby, or getting some exercise. Remember, taking care of your physical and mental health will enable you to provide better care for your loved one.

How to Create Comfort at Home for the People You’re Looking After

Creating a cosy and safe home environment can significantly enhance the quality of life for your elderly loved one. Simple touches like decluttering spaces to prevent falls, ensuring good lighting, and adding familiar, comforting items like photos and favourite blankets can make a big difference. Additionally, keeping communication open and involving your loved one in decisions about their care and surroundings can help them feel more at ease and valued.

Verity Kick, Marketing Director at Oak Tree Mobility comments, “Caregivers for elderly parents face immense emotional, physical, and financial challenges. While Carer's Allowance offers some support, it pales in comparison to the high costs of professional care, which can reach up to £61,200 annually. Balancing caregiving with work and personal life is incredibly demanding. Comprehensive support systems, including financial aid and community resources, are essential to alleviate the burden on caregivers and ensure they and their loved ones receive the necessary care and support.”

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