Incapacity benefit challenge: the cost of caring

Picture a workforce six million strong, paid £50 a week, working long hours, often on call 24 hours a day, with few breaks or holidays. Some workers are as young as 14, while others are in their seventies or eighties. Their very existence, and their willingness to work, saves their government billions of pounds each year, yet they receive no training, little support and often give up the chance of building a life and career for themselves because of their circumstances. Many suffer from ill health due to the pressures they are under, enter a cycle of poverty and some have even been driven to suicide or violence because of their lot.

You’d be forgiven for thinking these are sweat shop workers in some developing country, but they’re not. I’m shocked to say that they are the UK’s invisible army of carers – people who every day look after their disabled or ill relatives in their homes and by doing so, save social services £87bn a year.

A few of you have left me comments during my current incapacity benefit challenge explaining the difficult situation many carers find themselves in, and I was curious to find out more. Gordon Conochie, who is Joint Policy and Parliamentary Officer at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, the largest provider of services for carers in the UK and Crossroads Care, the leading provider of respite services for carers, filled me in.

“The pressures carers face are tough,” he told me. “For non-working carers, it’s a struggle every day to cover costs. You may have to run a car, you’re in the house a lot and need heating, the person you’re caring for may need a special diet which may be expensive. One in three carers cut back on food or heating. There is a huge impact on their quality of life and financial pressures exacerbate matters. The health of carers in general is worse than that of ordinary people.”

50 per cent of the UK’s six million carers also try to hold down a job, but one in five are forced to give up work. Many people make the active decision to be carers but don’t always realise what a heavy burden it will be. Social workers assess how much care and support a disabled or ill individual needs and, according to Gordon, if they say they have family members who can help them, the amount of social care they receive is reduced. But often the family carers themselves aren’t consulted by social services regarding how much support they can provide. “Sometimes they have to give up their lives because of these judgements, so there is a huge sense of injustice,” he reveals. “When people want to make the decision [to become a carer] we think it’s a good thing, but we don’t think they should have to give up their own life. Too many carers don’t get enough support and feel isolated.”

The plight of young carers looking after a sick parent while still at school is particularly shocking. They are often reluctant to get help or open up about their problems because they fear their families will be split up. “There’s also a huge problem with bullying,” Gordon admits, who writes a blog on issues affecting carers. “Research shows that 30 per cent of young carers are bullied. They are often branded as troublesome kids, too. If you’ve got a kid who is showing up late to school, with unwashed clothes, you might not realise that they’ve been up all night caring for their mum. You’d automatically think they were truanting.”

Young carers are often at a huge disadvantage career wise, too, missing out on university education and training opportunities. “If a young carer has the option of receiving the carer’s allowance or going to university and their family relies on [the money and help], the incentive is not to go to university,” he says.

As well as providing a network of advice centres and online support for carers, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers is busy lobbying the government. The trust wants the carer’s allowance to be raised from the current £50 a week rate and a ‘credits for caring’ scheme to be introduced. Campaigners are also angry that government money given to primary care trusts to provide carer support hasn’t been utilised for that purpose. “The majority of care and support in this country is provided by family, not social services,” says Gordon. “You wouldn’t treat a workforce like we treat carers.”

Do you think the carer’s allowance should be raised from £50 a week? Are you a young carer looking after your parents or relatives? How should the government improve the lot for carers?  Leave a message and let me know.

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5 Responses to Incapacity benefit challenge: the cost of caring

  1. Unknown says:

    £50 a week is absolutely disgusting. £50 a day would be nowhere near enough, or anywhere near what they deserve. This sort of thing makes me so angry, when I hear of bankers and the like getting millions in bonuses, let alone their unbelievable salaries, for doing probably far less work than any carer. What on Earth has happened to this country? How have we managed to get our priorities so wrong? It seems to me that those who have an easy and comfortable working life get paid an absolute fortune, and those who do the really hard work and keep our society going, get a pittance. Where\’s the logic??

  2. piper says:

    I have no idea. It makes no sense whatsoever. Especially when you read the latest about the MPs expenses and money to fix bell towers.

  3. Bill says:

    £50/wk sounds about right in this destitute country.It only takes just over £1,000/wk to keep a child in a care home, oft inclusive free abuse.It only takes £25,000/wk (£13,000,000/annum) to keep a standard prisoner behind bars, all inclusive lung cancer, AIDS, & MRSA, all at taxpayer\’s expense.Not only is the country (taxpayer) short of small change, a so-called "cash-flow" problem, but are also destitute of both wedding tackle & grey matter. They have no trade skills, no industrial experience, & would appear to be pure brass neck.Even a completely illiterate & innumerate dishwasher can make more than £50/day, cash-in-hand.50 car washes, @ only £2 each, in 10 hrs, would gross £100.If the BNP really wish to win the election, they could easilly "promiss" to forego any expenses whatever, & to donate 50% of the standard salary to charity, obviously devoid of any tax. Those dumb enough to believe anything a prospective, or existing politician spouts, would most likely vote for \’em.Whatever we vote, whoever wins, nothing will improve, simply more of the boring same, or even worse.

  4. Bill says:

    Sorry, it has just dawned upon me, £50/wk, for such a 24/7 service, is 20% less than JSA, or IS, for any layabout over 25 years old. It would most certainly insult an insult, or even the worst sewer rat. Not even a smoker, or drinker, would tolerate such a miserable insult !It simply proves what gutless, spineless, & heartless scum, find themselves elected to Westminster as our reps. I do not blame them, they are so far beyond any such blame, I blame the entire party-political system, which so many cling to, in the hope that it will rectify itself.It is long since time to dump such a foul system of at least semi-dictatorship completely, for self-government, by, of, & for the People, by means of a full Public Referendum. Government by, of, & for the People.It is long since possible, by simple means of digital chip\’n-pin. No more lost, or otherwise bent ballot boxes, or papers, & a full e-record of all those who have voted, seperate from an equally confidential e-record of the "running" result, at all times.A simple selection of 6 choices, from which we chose 3, in order of merit. By means of secure chip\’n-pin, on a secure website, we could vote 24/7, from any lap, or desk-top.Far too simple for these over superanuated suits in Westminster, unless they have some ulterior motive, what, what???

  5. Bill says:

    p.s.Unknown to me, my brother gave up his p-time career as a Post Master, to care for his mother alone, 24/7. This went on, without any form of benefit, or support, for at least 5 years. No one saw fit to inform me that she was dangerously ill, he has not held a conversation with me since 1965, & only spoke to me a month before she died, as a result of me typing my email address on the back of a mothers day card. Without this I would not have known of her passing even today, over 3 years on.Neither he, nor yet the so called authorities would have seen fit to inform me, such gutless, spineless, stone-hearted, arrogant & ignorant Brown Rats. We definitely need a changing of the guard, in order to stop this extremely widespread rot.

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