THE proportion of adults providing help or support to someone outside their household rose four-fold during the first month of lockdown, figures suggest.

Almost half (48%) of UK adults said they had helped someone outside of their home during April, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is up from 11% of adults who reported providing a regular service or help for a sick, disabled, or elderly person not living with them during 2017-2018.

The ONS surveyed 6,400 people between April 3 and May 10 and analysed responses in its Understanding Society Covid-19 study. It also included responses from its Understanding Society study in 2017-18.

While the definitions the ONS used in the surveys differ slightly, it says this is still a "substantial increase" from before the coronavirus pandemic and a "useful indicator of change".

A third of the adults said they were helping someone they had not been supporting before the pandemic, and a similar proportion said they were giving more help to people they helped previously.

Shopping was the most common activity that people undertook as part of their caring responsibilities, while other actions included providing meals and helping with internet access, childcare and household chores.

Over half (51%) of the women surveyed were taking on these caring roles, compared to 45% of men, and people aged 45 to 54 were most likely to report caring.

As more people took on caring responsibilities, a higher proportion of adults helping others reported poor mental health, the ONS said.

Around a fifth (21%) of adults regularly helping a sick, disabled or elderly person not living with them reported symptoms of poor mental health in 2017-18.

This rose to three in 10 people (31%) during April, with the largest changes observed in women. Poor mental health in the general population also increased.

While a higher proportion of those helping others felt useful compared with the general population, this group was also more likely to be feeling constantly under strain and losing sleep more than usual.

The ONS cautioned that there may be multiple reasons for these feelings which may not be attributable to caring responsibilities.

The survey also suggests that the burden is falling disproportionately on "sandwich carers" - parents looking after children as well as providing support for elderly relatives.

Almost six in 10 (58%) adults with dependent children said they were helping someone from another household, compared to 45% of adults without dependent children.

The average age of a sandwich carer during April was 40 years old, almost two thirds were women and 85% were employed.

Some 45% of sandwich carers reported providing more help to the same people, just over a third (35%) said they were helping someone who they did not previously and a fifth said they are providing the same amount of support to someone during lockdown.