People across the UK have been pulling together during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in ways that are impacting across society but also changing responsibilities.
From making an extra meal, to buying essentials, almost half (48%) of people in the UK said that they provided help or support to someone outside of their household in the first month of lockdown in April 2020.
Although using a slightly different definition, this is a substantial increase since before the pandemic where just over 1 in 10 (11%) adults reported providing some regular service or help for a sick, disabled, or elderly person not living with them during 2017 to 2018.
In April, around one-third (32%) of adults who reported giving help or support, were helping someone who they did not help before the pandemic. One-third (33%) also reported giving more help to people they helped previously.
Shopping was the most common activity that people undertook as part of their caring responsibilities (85%).
Characteristics of people providing help or support to others in lockdown
Although women are still more likely than men to be taking on these caring roles, with over half (51%) doing these activities, there was also a high proportion of men providing help and support to someone outside their household through April, with nearly half (45%) reporting doing so.
People aged 45 to 54 years were most likely to report caring, with 60% of this age group reporting that they had provided help or support to someone during the first month of lockdown. The age group most likely to report caring in 2017 to 2018 was 55-to-64-year-olds (20%).
The likelihood of caring varies by age, sex, ethnicity and parental status
Proportion of adults providing help or support to someone outside of the household by various characteristics, UK, 2017 to 2018 and April 2020
- Ethnicity has been categorised in the following ways:
White includes British/English/Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish/ Irish/Gypsy or Irish Traveller/Any other White background
Mixed includes White and Black Caribbean/Black African/Asian/Any other Mixed background
Asian includes Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Chinese/Any other Asian background
Black includes Caribbean/African/Any other Black background
Other includes Arab or any other ethnic group not covered by the categories above.
Almost 6 in 10 (58%) adults with dependent children reported giving help or support to someone from another household, compared with 45% of adults without dependent children. This contrasts with before the pandemic, where those without dependent children were more likely to be caring for someone outside of their household (11% compared with 3%).
People who need to balance caring for children with caring for older relatives are known as sandwich carers.
The average age of sandwich carers, who were providing help or support for someone outside of their household and providing at least 10 hours of childcare or home-schooling per week during April 2020, was 40 years old and almost two thirds were women. 85% were employed although 17% reported working fewer hours because of childcare or informal caring responsibilities during lockdown.
Most sandwich carers have been providing more help to the same people (45%), help someone who they did not previously (35%) or have been providing the same amount of help or support to someone during lockdown (21%).
Changes in the reporting of poor mental health
Similar levels of people reported poor mental health regardless of whether they provided help or support to others outside their home in both 2017 to 2018 and April 2020.
In 2017 to 2018, just over 1 in 5 (21%) adults that provided some regular service or help for a sick, disabled or elderly person not living with them reported symptoms of poor mental health. During April this year, among those that provided help or support to others outside their home, this increased to nearly 1 in 3 (31%). For people not providing help or support, the proportion reporting poor mental health also increased from 20% to 29%.
Women tend to report higher levels of poor mental health than men regardless of whether they have been providing support for others or not. However, there has been the largest change in reported levels of poor mental health between women who were providing support in 2017 to 2018 and women who were providing support in April 2020.
Those who provided help and support more likely to feel they are playing a useful role
In a similar trend to the wider population, there has not been a significant increase in reported feelings of chronic loneliness among those that provide help and support to others. Around 1 in 12 (8%) providing help or support reported feeling lonely often or always, which is the same proportion as in 2017 to 2018.
During the first month of lockdown, around 1 in 6 (16%) of those who had provided help or support to others outside their home felt they played a useful role more so than usual, compared with just under 1 in 10 (9%) of those who had not. A higher proportion also reported that they enjoyed their day to day activities more so than usual compared with non-carers (11% and 8% respectively).
However, the proportion of those providing help and support that reported feeling constantly under strain and losing sleep more or much more than usual is significantly higher than that reported by those who were not. Although it should be noted that there may be many reasons for these feelings, and they may not be attributable to providing the help and support.
When asked about their well-being, over half of sandwich carers (52%) reported that they enjoyed their day to day activities more or the same as usual.
Around half (48%) of sandwich carers however, also reported feeling constantly under strain more than usual, 38% reported their concentration was less or much less than usual and 38% of sandwich carers reported loss of sleep more or much more than usual during April 2020.
Shielding and lockdown measures have prevented some people providing care to others
There are many reasons why more people are providing help and support to others through the pandemic. The ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey has been collecting people’s experiences from the start of lockdown.
Between 3 April and 10 May 2020, 79% of adults said they were very or somewhat worried about the effect that coronavirus (COVID-19) was having on their life and 11% of these said their caring responsibilities had been affected by the pandemic.
Almost half (47%) who said their caring responsibilities had been affected said they were unable to care for someone they usually supported, for example, by being unable to spend as much time as they would like with them or being unable to travel to them. Nearly 15% also said they had to organise remote support for someone vulnerable and 9% said that paid support had reduced.
Carers who look after people they live with have also been affected by the pandemic
Between 3 April and 10 May, 10% of adults said they were providing care to someone they lived with who was sick, disabled or aged over 70 years.
For these carers, 84% said they were very or somewhat worried about the effect that coronavirus (COVID-19) was having on their life compared to 78% of non-carers. However, amongst those who were very or somewhat worried, similar proportions of carers and non-carers said their well-being was affected because of the coronavirus (COVID-19): 47% compared with 45%. However, there were differences in some of the most common issues causing an effect on well-being between the two groups.
For carers and non-carers, the most common reasons were feeling worried about the future, feeling stressed or anxious or being bored. However, carers were more likely to say there was a strain on their personal relationships, their mental health was worse, or they did not have anyone to talk to about their worries.
They did report loneliness and spending too much time alone less often than non-carers. Again, there may be many factors resulting in these feelings and it may not be directly attributable to the caring role.
During lockdown, people who reported caring for someone living with them who is sick, disabled or aged over 70 years were similar to those who are not in terms of what they are doing to help them cope while being at home. Carers were most likely to report that their family and friends (76%) are helping them to cope as well as their household members (58%), watching films or using streaming services (55%) and exercising (51%).
Data and methodology:
Information on quality and methodology for these data are available through the links above.
The Understanding Society COVID-19 Study asks respondents whether they had provided help or support to family, friends or neighbours that do not live in the same house or flat.
Understanding Society 2017 to 2018 asks respondents whether they had provided some regular service or help for a sick, disabled, or elderly person not living with them.
The final three sections use data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey collected between 3 April and 10 May 2020 (inclusive). This is a pooled dataset using 5 waves of data with a sample of approximately 6,400 adults (64% response rate). More details on the quality and methodology of the OPN can be found in the Measuring the data section of Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain.