Spiralling costs and “devastating” cuts to support are leaving carers struggling with alarming levels of hardship, according to a charity.
Carers Scotland conducted a year-long investigation into the challenges faced by those looking after loved ones who may be old, disabled or seriously ill.
It found vast numbers of carers are accumulating unmanageable debt, with one in six more than £10,000 in the red.
The charity has called for action from the UK and Scottish Governments to help tackle the issue.
Carers Scotland director Simon Hodgson said: “Those caring, unpaid, for loved ones save society vast sums, but at huge personal cost - a cost this inquiry shows is pushing families to the brink.”
The charity’s research, called the Caring & Family Finances Inquiry, found carers are struggling to cope with loss of income, savings and benefits alongside rising everyday food, fuel and care related bills.
Key findings were that almost half, 47%, are in debt as a result of caring. A fifth are relying on overdrafts or credit cards to make ends meet, while a third are said to be more than £20,000 worse off as a result of caring.
Some 44% admitted to cutting back on essentials like food, while 59% of carers are in fuel poverty, the research found.
One in 10 carers said their savings had been drained by basic bills and everyday living costs and more than 170,000 people were found to have given up work to care at some point.
The charity claimed that government cuts to support are leaving carers across the UK facing a £1 billion cut.
Carers Scotland is calling for “urgent reform” of financial help for carers. It wants the UK and Scottish Governments to make a commitment that future policy will not leave carers worse off, by implementing a “carer” test for future benefits and social care proposals.
According to the charity, the main carers’ benefit, carer’s allowance, is £59.75 a week for a minimum of 35 hours caring - equivalent to £1.67 an hour. It is not available to those who earn more than £100 per week or to those in receipt of the basic state pension.
Mr Hodgson said: “Caring is often a dual blow, with household incomes hit by reduced earnings and bills rising as a result of the extra costs of ill health or disability. With an ageing population, more of us will care for loved ones - yet a blizzard of cuts to social care and benefits mean there is less and less support available. This is unacceptable and unsustainable.
“This country’s carers are being badly let down. Unless Governments act to stop the cuts to support for carers there is the risk families will be pushed to breaking point and left unable to care for their own.”