The number of unpaid carers in Britain is likely to rise by three million over the next 25 years, according to the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).
There are currently around six million people in the UK who care for elderly, sick and disabled relatives or friends, including many who care for people with a severe mental illness.
But that figure is expected to rise to nine million by the year 2032, said Commission Chairman Sir Bert Massie.
Launching the DRC’s new Disability Agenda, Sir Bert blamed the UK Government for failing to invest in public services and said the need to act on supporting carers was now urgent.
“Failure to act could mean new patterns of equality and disadvantage that Britain can ill afford,” said Sir Bert.
“Most of the new carers will be women and many will have to sacrifice their jobs to care for relatives.
“The positive developments of the last decade have undoubtedly helped create a more open road for disabled people to do the things they want in life.
“The unhappy irony is that, at the same time, the public services, resources and support many need to take up these new opportunities have not materialised.
“Many disabled people have been invited to look to the stars, only to find the ground opening beneath them.”
The DRC’s Disability Agenda, published this month, outlines a 10-point plan for reform of services and promotion of equality and citizenship rights for people with disabilities and those who care for them.
“Where disabled people face disadvantage, this is not the inevitable consequence of the functioning of their body or mind – it is the failure to tackle barriers of environment, policy and attitude,” the Agenda’s authors said.
Over the next 20 years the number of very elderly people in the UK is expected to increase at three times the rate for the rest of the population.
The Local Government Association has already warned that care would have to be withdrawn from 400,000 people unless more funding is made available.
The launch of the DRC’s Disability Agenda, with its focus on the role of carers, coincides with the Welsh Assembly Government’s own review of the issue.
The Carers’ Strategy for Wales, which was first published in 2000, is currently under consultation by AMs and others at the Assembly.
“While acknowledging the significant progress that has been made in recent years, the Welsh Assembly Government recognises the need to review its 2000 strategy to ensure that it remains up to date, coherent and focuses appropriately on issues that affect carers,” a spokesman said.
The draft re-focused strategy sets out five priority areas:
• Health and Social Care
• Young Carers
• Carers and Employment
As part of the consultation, the Assembly particularly invites views and opinions on the following issues:
1. Are the areas covered by the draft re-focused Wales Carers’ Strategy comprehensive and pertinent? Are any critical issues not covered?.
2. Should any part of the draft document be changed? And if so how?
3. Are the Key Actions proposed appropriate and relevant? Are there other Key Actions that could be included?
For more information on the re-focused Carers’ Strategy for Wales, go to www.new.wales.gov.uk/consultations
For more information on the Disability Agenda, go to www.drc-gb.org