Almost two thirds of unpaid carers have had to stop working or reduce their hours so they can continue caring, research suggests.
Unpaid carers are relying on food banks and loans as they struggle to afford essentials and to pay bills, according to a survey for the Carers Trust.
The charity said people who care for loved ones are experiencing “unprecedented financial hardship” as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.
A “double whammy” of a lack of financial support and struggling local services is pushing millions of unpaid family carers “into dire poverty”, it warned.
Its opt-in survey of 2,675 unpaid carers over the UK between July 22 and August 24 found that 41% of respondents have given up paid work so they can care for a sick or disabled loved one.
A further 23% have reduced the number of hours they work because of their caring role.
As the cost of living rises, one in seven (14%) family carers are using food banks, while 25% have cut back on food, and nine per cent have either sold their home or released home equity so they can afford essentials.
Some 26% have used a credit card to pay for essential household goods, 26% have borrowed money from a friend or relative and 18% have taken out a loan, the polling found.
Carers Trust chief executive, Kirsty McHugh, said: “With little ability to work, unpaid carers simply cannot boost their earnings to meet the cost-of-living crisis.
“Yet they need to keep the heating on and equipment running to keep their sick and disabled relatives warm and safe.
“The recent autumn statement simply did not recognise the extra cost of being an unpaid carer.
“We therefore need to raise Carer’s Allowance urgently and to add it to the list of benefits qualifying for the additional £900 cost-of-living support payment.”
She said the Government must also publish a strategy for unpaid carers, adding: “As a country we’re relying on unpaid carers to keep the health and care system afloat.
“The least we can do in return is ensure they get a fair deal in return.”
One carer told the charity: “My mother is 88 with cancer and doesn’t want to go into a home.
“I gave up my job in education to care for her and then shield her through Covid.
“I’m financially broke and have many loans to pay back, my house needs repairs and I can’t pay for them.
“My mental health is struggling every day but my mum needs me so I will stick with it.”
Another carer said: “All general bills are a worry. It’s crushing to not even be able to afford the most basics in life due to being an unpaid carer.”
Carers Trust said the Carer’s Allowance is not an adequate income replacement, at £69.70 a week, and recipients are more likely to struggle to make ends meet or use food banks compared to people who do not receive the benefit.
While the benefit will be increased in line with inflation next April, recipients are not eligible for the additional £900 cost-of-living payment announced in the autumn statement, the charity said.
It is urging the UK Government to provide additional cost-of-living support to unpaid carers now, and to develop a long-term funding strategy for social care.
A Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting people with the cost of living and we have provided at least an extra £1,200 of support to eight million of the most vulnerable households, while our Energy Price Guarantee will save people over £700 between October and March.
“We are also providing local authorities with £291.7 million in funding for short breaks and respite services for unpaid carers, as well as additional advice and support.
“Meanwhile, the Government has prioritised health and social care in the Autumn Statement, with up to £7.5 billion available over the next two years to support adult social care services – the biggest funding increase in history.”