The informal sector is perhaps the most important but least visible component of the mixed economy of welfare (MEW). For example, Johnson (1987, p 65) stated that in the case of elderly people not living in institutions the informal system is almost certainly more important than both the statutory and voluntary sectors. More recent commentators confirm that the most important source of welfare for disabled and older people in the UK is informal care provided by family and friends (Pickard, 2016).
Jenson (1997) suggested three key questions that needed to be placed at the heart of any care-centred typology and analysis of social policy: Who cares? Who pays? How is care provided? However, the informal sector may be rather different from the other three (formal) components (eg Qureshi and Walker, 1989; Finlayson, 1990). This suggests that it is difficult to apply the three-dimensional analysis of provision, finance and regulation to informal care.
Informal provision is usually regarded in terms of ‘provision’ in the sense of hours of care. There is limited ‘finance’ like the state paying for (say) private hospitals, as informal care is unpaid, although there are some policies in place such as providing carers with cash benefits or benefits in kind (Glendinning, 2016; discussed later in this chapter). However, it has been estimated that the contribution of carers such as family and friends is worth about £132 billion per year in the UK, roughly equivalent to the National Health Service (NHS) budget (Carers UK, 2017). Finally, there is limited ‘regulation’ of the ‘private sphere’ of caring.
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