Scotland’s carers update release: April 2022

Latest up to date estimates of the number of carers living in Scotland.

This is an update to the headline figure of the Scotland’s Carers publication and the subsequent Update Release published in November 2019.  It is intended to give users the latest up to date estimates on the number of carers living in Scotland.

The number of carers living in Scotland is estimated to be around 700,000 to 800,000. The latest figures show an estimated total of around 685,000 carers living in Scotland, including 30,000 young carers. 

This figure was calculated using the same methodology as previous estimates included in Scotland’s Carers, in order to maintain consistency and to ensure young carers were included. More information on how this estimate was calculated can be found in the Background section.

The latest figures from the Scottish Health Survey 2016-19 also show that for people aged 16 and over, 17% of females and 12% of males are carers. People are more likely to be providing unpaid care in their later working years – especially females. Around a quarter (26%) of females aged 45-54 and females aged 55-64 (23%) provided unpaid care in 2016-19. 

In 2020, the Scottish Health Survey ran as a telephone survey in August and September 2020. The survey only included people aged 16 years and over and the differences in methodology from the main Scottish Health Survey series mean that the results cannot be compared to those from previous surveys. It should therefore be viewed as a standalone report. Based on this survey, the estimated number of adult carers (aged 18 years and over) living in Scotland was around 839,000 in 2020.

For more detailed analysis on carers living in Scotland, including information on health and wellbeing, please refer to Scotland’s Carers.

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The estimates in this update were produced using the Scottish Government’s Scottish Health Survey and the mid-year population estimates published by National Records of Scotland. 


The number of carers living in Scotland was estimated by applying the percentage of the population who were estimated to be carers in the Scottish Health Survey (figures combined for 2016-2019 to give a large enough sample) to the 2019 mid-year population estimates, which produced the figures below:

Total estimated number of carers: 685,000
Estimated number of adult carers (aged 18+): 655,000 
Estimated number of young carers (aged 4-17): 30,000

This was how the previous estimate of the number of carers living in Scotland was calculated for the Scotland’s Carers publication, using the 2013 mid-year population estimates and the 2012 and 2013 Scottish Health Survey results.

The latest estimates are significantly lower than the previous estimate of 790,000 carers included in the Scotland’s Carers publication. However, other than a slight change to the Scottish Health Survey question in 2014 which made the exclusion of paid work more explicit, there were no changes to survey methodology or sampling technique between 2014 and 2015 which is when the biggest drop was seen. The figures have since remained consistent.

It is important to note that the percentage decrease between 2012-13 and 2016-19 was under 3% for adults aged 18+, but when this is applied to the Scottish population estimates it can lead to sizeable changes in the estimated number of carers.

Other sources 

The Scottish Survey Core Questions (SSCQ), which pool the samples from the Scottish Health Survey (SHeS), Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) and the Scottish Household Survey (SHS), give slightly higher figures for the percentage of the population estimated to be carers. However, these figures relate to people aged 16+ only. 

During 2016-2019, an estimated 17.2% of people provided unpaid care according to the SSCQ. This would be equivalent to around 781,000 people aged 16+ providing unpaid care. 

The higher figures in the SSCQ are driven by the higher percentage of carers being reported in the Scottish Household Survey. An extract from the SSCQ 2019 report explains this further:

Table A.5: Provides unpaid care by source survey (row % and margin of error)

Survey Provides care
SSCQ 16.1    ± 0.6 
SCJS 14.0    ± 1.1
SHeS 13.7    ± 1.4
SHS 18.3    ± 0.9

The three surveys produce somewhat different estimates of the rate of the provision of unpaid care. SHS reports the highest level, followed by SCJS and SHeS. The confidence intervals on estimates from SCJS and SHeS overlap and do not represent a significant difference. It is thought that the SHS estimate is higher due to this being asked in the context of other questions around volunteering and time spent providing care. 

Source: SSCQ 2019

The Scottish Health Survey is the only national source which includes information on people under the age of 16 providing unpaid care apart from Scotland’s Census. However, people providing low levels of care each week are less likely to be identified in the Census and it may be the case that one person will answer the Census questionnaire for the whole household.  This person may not be aware of caring activity going on elsewhere in the household or may feel uncomfortable explaining that someone else in the household provides care for them. As such, the Scottish Health Survey still provides the best estimate of the number carers for all ages (including children) in Scotland.  


If you have any queries or feedback about this update then please e-mail

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