Scotland’s Carers Update Release: December 2022

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

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The estimates in this update were produced using the Scottish Government’s Scottish Health Survey and the 2021 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 for 2017-2021 combined to give a large enough sample) to the 2021 mid-year population estimates, which produced the figures below:

Total estimated number of carers: 696,000

Estimated number of adult carers (aged 18+): 668,000

Estimated number of young carers (aged 4-17): 28,000

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 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.

The 2020 Scottish Health Survey telephone survey gave a higher estimate of the number of people providing unpaid care in Scotland. However, due to differences in methodology and the time period covered this is considered to be a standalone report and cannot be compared to the main series.

It is important to note that the percentage decrease between 2012-2013 and 2017-2021 combined was under 3% for adults aged 16+, 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)


Provides Care


16.1    ± 0.6


14.0    ± 1.1


13.7    ± 1.4


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. 


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