SCHOOLS and GPs need to be on alert to spot young carers, the chief executive of a local carers’ charity has said, after a survey revealed more than 800,000 secondary-school age children carry out some level of care.

The survey by BBC News and Nottingham University suggests more than 250,000 young carers are carrying out a high level of care, with 73,000 taking on the highest amount of care.

The last census in 2011 found there were 166,000 young carers in England aged five-17 years but this new research suggests the real number is far higher.

Chris Whiley, chief executive of local charity Carers’ Resource, said: “A young carer is anyone under 18 who cares for a parent or sibling with a physical or mental illness, a disability or an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

“We believe the numbers stated in the BBC and Nottingham University survey are so high because no one is realising these young people are carers. Our schools and GPs need to be on alert about this issue so that young carers are identified and referred to services such as ours or Barnardo’s for emotional and practical support.

“We know many unpaid carers are struggling and feel unsupported due to a lack of finances and resources such as respite and overnight paid-for care.

“This has a particularly tough impact on children and young people who are caring. They have to grow up quickly and often carry out adult tasks for loved ones such as cooking, cleaning and shopping. They can feel isolated from peers and face bullying and can be living in poverty.

“With support, young carers can be given coping strategies and breaks from caring - but professionals and wider society need to make sure these children have the chance to receive that support by flagging them up.”

Carers’ Resource gives practical and emotional support to 16,000 unpaid carers across the Bradford, Wharfedale, Skipton and Harrogate districts.

Giles Meyer, CEO of national charity Carers Trust, said: “This new data blows all previous figures out of the water, revealing a generation of young carers who are being neglected by society.”

“This is a monumental wake-up call for us all to take responsibility for these vulnerable children.

“Staggeringly, there are six young carers in every secondary school classroom, which gives us an incredibly worrying sense of the scale of this issue for the first time in a decade.”

“Whilst these new figures are shocking, we are not at all surprised. A lack of government commitment to making sure these vulnerable children are routinely identified in school and supported means young carers are slipping through the net.

“Carers Trust is calling on the government to take urgent action to make sure that the rights they enshrined in law to protect all young carers are actually being delivered by local authorities, rather than the patchy, ad-hoc support services currently out there.”

The BBC News and Nottingham University questionnaire was completed by 925 children across England from two year groups - 11 to 12-year-olds and 14 to 15-year-olds. The 800,000 figure would be reached if the survey was extrapolated across England.