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The Care Allowance Has Been An Absolute Disaster; Sir Ed Davey Says

On a recent Voices of Care podcast – a channel dedicated to celebrating the health and social care sector – Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Kingston and Surbiton, called on the next government to once and for all reach a cross party consensus to reform social care including properly honouring the role of unpaid carers, calling the current Care Allowance ‘an absolute disaster’.

Census data from 2021 showed that more than 5 million people in England and Wales over the age of 5 were providing unpaid care in 2021; although research from Carers UK in 2022 estimates the number of unpaid carers could be as high as 10.6 million (Carers UK, Carers Week 2022 research report).  Without their contribution, the social care and indeed arguably the whole healthcare system including the NHS would collapse.

Speaking on the podcast, Ed reflected on the role of family carers, a group often neglected in mainstream commentary. Evidence abounds of the role that unpaid carers have on the health and social care system and the wider economy.

Commenting, Ed states: “We clearly need to look after our care professionals much better than we do, but I think care professionals would be the first to say, ‘let’s also look after the families and the loved ones and the neighbours and the friends who do the vast bulk of caring’.  I’m not talking about childcare, I’m talking about looking after disabled people, looking after elderly relatives, looking after spouses.

We need better training for, and structures in place to support unpaid carers. At 12 years old, when I was caring for my terminally ill mother and administering morphine, I wish I had <<some>> training.”

Research from Carers UK and Sheffield University in May 2023 showed that unpaid carers in the UK contribute £162 billion per year to the economy. The report states “Providing increasing hours of unpaid care, family members have no choice but to give up work or reduce their hours to do so, also putting their physical and mental health needs to one side.”

Census data from 2021 suggests that there are over 2 million carers who are employees and, according to the State of Caring 2023 Survey, 40% of carers surveyed-many providing more than 50 hours a week of unpaid care – said they had given up work to focus on unpaid care and 22% had reduced their working hours. Nearly half (49%) of carers who had given up work or reduced their working hours had seen their income reduce by over £1,000 per month.

Ed comments: “We need to make it a lot easier for people who can work alongside caring to do so. It keeps them mentally healthy, brings in more money and <<avoids>> going from a <<possible>> double income family to a no income family just because of the unluckiness of health. People who are doing full time caring for loved ones, guess what, oftentimes they are quite poor. It is not right that we treat unpaid carers in this way.  There’s a big debate over Carers Allowance, it needs complete reform it is an absolute disaster.

One thing I hope we can do much better on is make people understand that care is a tough job, it should be valued much more, and we need to both recognize that and provide support.”

“When I think of the voice of family carers, I don’t really hear it in that model and I am not having a go at some of the health commissioners, but whether that’s changed their mentality and the culture, I don’t know.  Because if you really are going to reach out to families and family carers, if you really are going to reach out outside the NHS to people like community pharmacists and so on, you do need a change of mindset and that will take time.”

“My own experience in government of having tried to get consensus and then being disappointed by the result, we’ve just got to get this done. And that means we must get everyone around the table. So, I’ve called for all the main political parties to put in their manifesto a commitment to work cross party, to finally get an agreement on this, both what it would look like and how it will be funded in the next parliament. And just imagine we did that in the next parliament, I think it would be a transformative parliament.”

















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