Today (2 July), ahead of next week’s Emergency Budget where cuts of £12bn to welfare spending are expected to be announced, Carers UK has published a new report(1) setting out why Carer’s Allowance is a vital lifeline for people caring for disabled or older loved ones. Carers UK is calling for carers’ benefits to be protected and improved.
The report also comes one day after the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced there will be a cross-government carers’ strategy to improve support for carers. Carers UK warns that any cuts to carers’ benefits could seriously undermine this strategy.
Carer’s Allowance is the main benefit for full-time carers. It is currently worth £62.10 a week. It is designed to provide a degree of income maintenance for someone unable to work full-time because of their caring responsibilities. To qualify, carers must be providing at least 35 hours of care per week and there are restrictions on the amount they can earn whilst receiving the benefit. Although it is low, the benefit is a source of independent financial income, providing important recognition of the contribution made by carers and vital financial support for those struggling to make ends meet.
When people take on a caring role, they often face a steep drop in income if they have to leave work or reduce their hours to care – sometimes a double loss of salary if they are caring for a partner who also has to give up work as a result of their illness or disability. This is often coupled with a sharp rise in expenditure as a result of the additional costs of caring and disability.
Indeed, as a result of their caring role, many carers face serious financial hardship. Nearly half (48%) of carers surveyed by Carers UK, the majority of whom are caring full-time, are struggling to make ends meet as a result of their caring role and almost a half (44%) are cutting back on essentials like food and heating(2).
With the Government’s manifesto commitment to cut welfare spending by £12 billion over the next two years, many carers are worried about their future. Media reports about potential cuts to Carer’s Allowance suggest that 40% of carers claiming the benefit could miss out – that’s an estimated 250,000 carers(3).
What’s more, research by Carers UK suggests that expenditure on carer’s benefits has already been reduced by £1 billion since 2010, as a result of tighter eligibility criteria, reductions in housing and council tax benefits, and changes in uprating(4). Further cuts to the main benefit that many full-time carers receive could have serious consequences for both carers and the State.
Ann, who cares full-time for her mother who has dementia, says:
“Carer’s Allowance is such a small amount, but it is better than nothing. Carer’s Allowance doesn’t come close to being a wage for looking after my mum full-time, but it is recognition of my caring role. The income is minimal, but it helps me pay for things like hospital car parking charges – costs that would otherwise have to come out of my savings.”
Prior to the General Election, thousands of carers told Carers UK that they wanted the next Government to protect their futures. As a result, Carers UK is calling on the Government to make a new deal for carers by:
•Making alleviating carers’ financial hardship a priority
•Increasing the value of Carer’s Allowance
•Creating a carer income guarantee to ensure that carers do not fall into poverty
•Implementing changes to help carers remain in work and be supported to care
•Conducting a cumulative impact assessment of proposed welfare changes
Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, says:
“Making cuts to Carer’s Allowance and placing tighter restrictions on those who can claim the benefit would be dangerously short-sighted. Not only would it mean that many carers will be faced with huge challenges – such as increased financial hardship and greater dependence on other benefits – but the State would ultimately face an insurmountable cost. Any cuts to carers’ benefits would ultimately risk seriously undermining the Government’s own strategy to strengthen support for carers.
“As it stands, the UK’s 6.5 million carers save the economy £119 billion in unpaid care every year – to put this into perspective, this is considerably more than is spent on the NHS in England. Carers have fought for decades to be recognised for their caring roles, yet this is now under threat.
“The Government’s manifesto promised to improve support for full-time carers. In order to do this, Carer’s Allowance must be protected. It provides essential income for many families who, without it, would struggle further with the daily costs of living and higher costs of disability, old age or ill-health. Carers Allowance matters.”