Census 2021 data has shown the number of unpaid carers in Dorset has fallen between 2011 and 2021 from 11.9% to 9.7% of the population. However, of the 35,498 people who are caring for a family member, friend or neighbour in the county, the number providing a significant amount of unpaid care – over 20 hours a week – has increased.

In 2011 1.3% of Dorset residents provided 20-49 hours of unpaid care a week and 2.5% provided 50 or more hours. In 2021 that has increased to 1.67% and 2.9% respectively.

The number of hours people spend caring for someone is important because studies show that an intensive caring role can have a detrimental effect on a carer’s health, wellbeing, and ability to work.

The ONS said the reason the total number of unpaid carers may have fallen could be because of how the question was framed and the fact the Census was carried out during the Covid pandemic, when households couldn’t mix and people may not have been able to carry out their usual caring duties. There were also a higher number of deaths among elderly people, reducing the need for care.

Carer Support Dorset provides support to unpaid carers in the county. Leanne Hubbard, Interim CEO of the charity says:

“We are surprised the overall number of unpaid carers has dropped since 2011. The wording of the question will likely have had an impact – in 2011 people were asked if they look after, or give any help or support to family members, friends, neighbours and others. In 2021 they were asked if they look after, or give help or support, to anyone because they have a long-term physical condition or illness, or problem related to old age.

“We were less surprised that the number of people providing large amounts of care to someone has increased so dramatically. This tallies with what we are hearing from carers. Providing more than 20 hours of care every week, often alongside work and other family commitments, takes its toll. Especially since the pandemic and with the increased pressures on the NHS and social services. Respite opportunities are vital to allow carers to have a break.

“The number of people providing 50 or more hours of care a week has risen significantly in Dorset since 2011. We know that this sort of intensive caring role can have a severe negative impact on a carer’s health and wellbeing. It’s a lot of responsibility and often logistically very difficult to take the holidays and time out that most of us take for granted.

“We encourage all unpaid carers to register with us to find out what help we can offer.”

Eliza Atyeo of Verwood cared for her dad following his diagnosis of terminal cancer until he died in September 2022. She currently works for BCP Council as Carers Commissioning Officer.

“Many people take on a caring role as it is considered ‘something you just do’ as opposed to a formal role. Many people fail to identify and recognise that they are unpaid carers, meaning they struggle along without support.

“My father’s decline was fast, and I felt like I was in a bubble for the duration of it, watching someone I love, slowly leave. My sadness comes when I think that for so long I went without any formal help, because I believed I should be able to manage.

“I recognise the challenges that have been highlighted by the latest census, particularly that of anxiety, a lack of social life, the pressures of rising costs, the financial and legal challenges, the list goes on. I often find myself thinking, ‘how did I manage to continue working through all that?’, but the power of the human mind is an amazing thing. My experience gives me strength. I am proud that from diagnosis to death I was my dad’s carer.”

Carer Support Dorset can be contacted on 0800 368 8349 and information found at carersupportdorset.co.uk.