Report highlights earnings cost of unpaid care

A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report calculates the earnings hit faced by unpaid carers and calls for Statutory Carer Pay based on the Statutory Maternity Pay model.

Middle aged woman pushes an older woman along in a wheelchair as a carer


Unpaid carers experience an average pay penalty of £487 per month, or nearly £6,000 per year, which increases the longer they are doing unpaid care, according to a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report.

The study calculates the ‘caring penalty’, or the amount lost in earnings by those who take up caring for a loved one because they are forced to reduce their hours, give up opportunities for progression or leave work altogether.

It adds that the low level of income they receive from Carer’s Allowance doesn’t protect them from poverty while also disincentivising them to return to work.

The research findings include:

  • The average pay penalty facing unpaid carers rises to £744 per month or nearly £9,000 per year after six years of providing unpaid care
  • Five years after starting care work, over 30% of those who were in paid work before providing 20 or more hours of unpaid care per week are no longer in paid work
  • Most unpaid carers who leave work don’t see their incomes replaced; over 25% of carers who had to give up work at the same time as beginning unpaid care work do not receive a pension, Carers Allowance or Universal Credit
    For over two-thirds of these carers, these benefits replace less than half of their previous earnings

JRF is calling for the contributions of our unpaid carers to be valued through Statutory Carer Pay of 39 weeks for one year, with the ability to take this leave flexibly paid at the same level as Statutory Maternity Pay at a minimum.

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 will give unpaid carers one week of unpaid leave per year, but JRF says this is not long enough and that because it is unpaid many of the lowest earners won’t be able to take it.

The report also sets out the need for a broader redesign of the relationship between care and work, including more generous paternity leave and a strengthened right to flexible working.

Abby Jitendra, Principal Policy Adviser at JRF, says: “It’s not right that unpaid carers on low incomes are losing out on thousands of pounds and being pushed into poverty as they can no longer work while providing much needed care that benefits us all.

“The Carer’s Leave Act will give unpaid carers one week of unpaid leave a year, but unpaid, short-term leave will not prevent the financial hit people face or stop people from dropping out of work when care needs intensify.

“We need to show we value our unpaid carers and the work they do by introducing paid carer’s leave, in line with maternity leave. This policy would make a practical difference, giving people the security to choose to care for their loved ones themselves without falling into poverty while supporting those who need care most in our society.”

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