178,000 children 'unpaid carers'
Nearly 10,000 children aged five to seven are providing unpaid care for their family members or guardians, according to census figures.
The statistics show that a total of 177,918 minors are carers for their loved ones, with 15,728 providing more than 50 hours of care a week and 19,422 between 20 and 49 hours.
The figures, compiled from the 2011 Census, indicate that of the 9,985 five to seven-year-olds providing care, 1,642 are doing so for more than 50 hours a week, with 1,166 for between 20 and 49 hours.
In the eight to nine-year-old age bracket, 12,148 children are giving care, 1,520 for more than 50 hours a week, and 1,204 for between 20 and 49 hours. But it is the youngsters aged 10 to 14 who make up the largest group of care providers, with 72,266 providing unpaid care.
The figures released on Thursday show that 23,848 children who were aged 15 at the time of the 2011 Census were providing unpaid care, 1,763 for more than 50 hours a week and 2,489 for between 20 and 49 hours.
Meanwhile 59,671 of those aged 16 to 17 were carers, 4,842 for more than 50 hours a week and 7,520 for between 20 and 49 hours. The statistics also found that 65,615 18 and 19-year-olds were recorded as carers in 2011. No children below the age of five were listed as being carers.
The statistics, which relate to England and Wales, also indicate the level of health of the child carers. They show that 2,419 under 18s had "bad or very bad health" while 9,931 said it was "fair". The rest had "very good or good health".
The figures show that more girls than boys are carers. A total of 95,250 were female while 82,668 were male. The Census found that 4,730 boys aged five to seven were carers, 817 of them providing 50 or more hours a week of care. Meanwhile 38,704 15 to 17-year-old males acted as carers for at least one hour a week.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We know young carers need more help and we are supporting local authorities to do much more for these dedicated young people. We recently announced that young carers will be involved in the training of school nurses, so they know exactly what support they should offer and can champion their needs.
"We have also created a specific training guide for teachers to help them to better identify and support young carers - and funded the Children's Society and Carers Trust to support social services to adopt 'whole family' approaches to support young carers."