The recent severe weather brought a lot of issues to national attention, not least of which was the extent to which people across the country are providing care and help to family, friends and neighbours, including older persons. As today is also International Women’s Day, this seemed like a good time to examine the extent of unpaid care being provided in the Western Region on a regular basis.
Census 2016 included the following question:
‘Do you provide regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability? Include problems which are due to old age. Personal help includes help with basic tasks such as feeding or dressing.’
Those who answered Yes were asked how many hours of care they provided per week. The results of this question were published in Census 2016 Profile 9: Health, Disability and Carers. It should be noted that this data likely underestimates the full extent of unpaid caring activity as some people who are providing care may have underestimated this or not considered themselves as providing care e.g. an older person may not have counted that they are providing care for their spouse.
In total 37,075 people in the Western Region recorded themselves as providing unpaid care. This equates to 4.5% of the entire population of the region, higher than the 4.0% share in the rest of the state.
The Western Region is home to 19% of all carers in the State, higher than its 17.4% share of the national population, showing the greater need for, and provision of, unpaid care in the region. This is closely linked to the region’s older age profile. Of the people providing care in the region, 60% are women and 40% are men.
Percentage of population who are carers
The map below shows the percentage of the population of each administrative county who are providing unpaid care for a friend or family member. There is a very striking East/West pattern with the highest shares along the western seaboard and western Midlands, with the Greater Dublin Area showing the lowest shares. Of the counties of the Western Region, 4.7% of the population of Mayo and Sligo are providing regular care and 4.6% in Clare. Within the region the lowest share is in Galway city at 3.7%.
Age of carers
The region has a higher share of carers across almost all age groups (see Fig. 1). The higher share of carers in the region is particularly evident in the age groups between 40 and 54. In the region and elsewhere, people in the 50-54 age group are most likely to be providing care at 10.5% in the Western Region (9.4% in rest of state). Generally, caring activity is most likely to occur when people are aged 40-60, strongly influenced by providing care for ageing parents.
In total 54.2% of all carers in the Western Region are aged 40-60. As the majority of people in this age group are working, this raises the issue of flexible working hours and leave for those providing such care. While there are a number of initiatives to improve flexibility for those caring for young children (e.g. parental leave, term time), fewer options are available for those providing elder care or caring for persons with a disability. Given the older age profile of the population in the Western Region and increasing life expectancy, the issue of flexibility for employees providing elder care will become even more pressing in future.
Of all people aged over 65 years in the Western Region, 4.4% of them are providing care, somewhat lower than the share in the rest of the state (4.7%). However this group (65+) account for 15% of all carers in the Western Region and also the rest of state. Just under 1 in 6 of all carers are aged over 65 years.
Hours of care
In total 1,254,778 hours of unpaid care were provided per week in the Western Region. This was 19% of the total hours of unpaid care provided in the State. The average number of hours of care provided in the Western Region ranged from a high of 42.6 hours per week in Donegal to 34.1 hours per week in Galway City.
There were substantial gender variations in this however (Fig. 2). The average number of hours of care provided by women was higher than the average for men in each county. In Roscommon female carers provided an average of 44.8 hours of care per week compared with 35.8 hours for male carers. This was the largest gender difference in the region with the smallest gender difference in Donegal.
In the Western Region, 28.3% of over 65s live alone and there are 30,330 people aged over 80 years. The Western Region’s older age profile and increasing life expectancy means the demand for care, especially for older persons, will increase. Increasing female labour force participation means that a growing share of those who are providing this care are also in employment. As over half of all those providing care are aged 40-60 years, the need to balance caring for ageing parents and other relatives with work commitments is a critical and growing issue that needs to be more effectively addressed by policy. While a lot of focus has been on trying to facilitate the childcare needs of employees (where more still needs to be done …) the issue of elder care commitments now needs to receive far greater attention. This is compounded by the limitations of the Home Care Package as demand increases but resources and staffing are limited.