Britain’s unpaid carers save the country £87 billion a year, according to new research from the University of Leeds.
The figure is up 52% since the last estimate, which was made in 2002, and is more than the total amount spent by the NHS in the last financial year.
Imelda Redmond of Carers UK, the charity that commissioned the research, said: “It is clear that without carers our NHS and social care systems would collapse.
“It is ironic, given the billions they contribute to the economy, that so many carers are forced into poverty and a low quality of life.
“We need concerted action from government, employers and public bodies to end social exclusion among carers.”
The new figures are based on how much public money it would cost to provide alternative care if an unpaid carer was not available.
This has been calculated as £14.50 an hour – more than four times the amount spent on social care services for adults and children by local authorities in the financial year 2005 – 2006.
The average individual carer is now estimated to save the nation more than £15,260.