In Ireland, 3.7 million hours are worked every week, by a staggering 161,000 family carers.
Although this work saves the state billions annually, according to The Carers Association the true economic and social significance of family carers work in the home is not recognised.
"Many carers work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week yet are not entitled to the same benefits enjoyed by other workers in our society. Our laws and regulations on equality, health and safety, working time, annual leave, sick leave and many others do not apply to family carers. Our constitution provides no recognition or protection for family carers."
The picture in the U.K. is similar. Some 6.4 million people in the UK care for sick, disabled or frail friends and relatives, and as Sue Yeandle of The Guardian writes, "they're often punished for doing so. Many of them pay a "triple penalty": damage to their health; a poorer financial situation; and restrictions in everyday life". All this in spite of the fact that in these carers save the U.K. purse £119bn annually, more than the NHS budget.
In her article, Sue Yeandle features an interesting U.K action research programme, the National Carers' Strategy Sites (DS), which makes the compelling case for taking good care of carers. As part of this programme various supports, including breaks from caring and health and wellbeing checks, were offered to carers by local agencies in partnership with the voluntary sector, NHS and local authorities (25 multi-agency partnerships in total).
The research element of the programme was carried out by the Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities at the University of Leeds. Almost 19,000 carers participated and it was found that many really valued the extra help they received. Additionally, the researchers identified many potential savings including prevention of hospital/residential care admissions, supporting carers to sustain their caring role, earlier identification of health issues, improved health and well-being of carers, efficiency savings for GPs, and assisting carers to return to, or remain in paid work.