What is the Sandwich Generation?

19th April 2021

You may have heard this term being used, The Sandwich Generation.

You may have heard this term being used, The Sandwich Generation describes those who are looking after both their children as well as elderly parents, grandparents or other family members; sandwiched between two generations.

According to this year’s figures from the Office for National Statistics, there are 1.3 million people in the UK with such multi-generational caring responsibilities, with many feeling ignored and undervalued.

The ONS says the numbers in this “sandwich” generation, often in their 40s and 50s, are being increased by a combination of longer life expectancy and women tending to have children later in life.

The average carer age is between 35 and 54 years, with a peak at 45 years. Two-thirds of “sandwich carers” are women (62%). One in five (19%) spend at least 20 hours each week providing care. Although providing care at home doesn’t prevent paid employment, those carers who spend more than 20 hours a week in caring are more likely to be unemployed (59%).

A recent Carers UK study found women were four times more likely than men to have given up work due to multiple caring responsibilities.

Is sandwich generation a new term?

The term may be relatively new, but caring for family members and multi generational families have been around forever. In many cultures, it is common for all generations of a family to live under one roof and look after each other.

It is also common for families to come together as parents or grandparents age and with the average life expectancy lengthening, it is understandable that more time will be spent on supporting and caring for them.

We see ‘sandwich care’ not only becoming more common but also that this period will see carers caught in the sandwich for longer.

What pressures do the sandwich generation face?

The ONS data shows us that this level of caring for others can have a significant impact, mentally, physically and financially. Carers are more likely to report symptoms of mental ill-health, feel less satisfied with life, and may struggle financially when compared with the general population.

The cost of caring for both children and elderly relatives can leave a significant strain. This is also added to the figure of  41% of sandwich carers looking after a relative within their home who say they’re unable to work at all or as much as they’d like, adding more to the financial strain.

One in three sandwich carers say they are “just about getting by” financially, while one in ten are “finding it difficult” or “very difficult” to cope.

Financial pressures are not always a problem, but almost all are concerned about the pressure on their time. The ONS report showed that 27% of people in the sandwich generation described themselves as having mild to moderate mental health symptoms. There was a direct correlation between this and how much time they spent caring. Spending their time caring for others, means little to no time for themselves. 

How can you support those who are in the sandwich generation?

There are some easy, but important things that we can do to help support those in the sandwich generation and help ease the burden.

Get Support 

We have all heard the saying “You Cannot Help Others Until You Help Yourself”, you have to look after your emotional wellbeing. Are there others around you who could help share your responsibilities and take some of the burden? This could be other family members or friends, or it could be local community groups or charities. It is important to be able to take time for yourself and to spend time doing what makes you happy, it could be taking a walk, reading a good book or catching up with friends… take these opportunities. 

Ask for Help

There will be times when you feel overwhelmed, and it is important to be able to ask for help. As mentioned elsewhere, reach out to others around you and also look for local community groups or charities that can offer support, be it for you or volunteers who can support with caring. It’s common for carers to feel as though they don’t have any choice but to carry on giving constant support, however, it’s very important to be honest with others about the pressures. 

Set Clear Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is a very important aspect of self-care. When caring for others, it is important to care for yourself. Setting clear boundaries and limitations is the first step in caring for yourself and avoiding burnout. These can be very simple steps like saying no when you need to, making it clear when you will and won’t be available, give yourself permission to step away and switch off when needed.

What are the Benefits?  

There are benefits that you can claim and so can the people that you are caring for. Those who need nursing are likely to qualify for a personal independence payment. 

Also, if you are spending more than 35 hours a week caring for someone, you may also qualify for carers’ allowance. In 2020/21, this could pay you up to £67.25 a week. You need to meet certain criteria in terms of how much other income you have. Check your eligibility at www.gov.uk/carers-allowance.