Today is Carers Rights Day
And boy, do they need someone to look out for them.
There are an estimated 6.4 million people in the UK providing unpaid care and they are saving the UK economy £119bn every year – more than the cost of all social care services and all private providers combined. You’d think the uk would be grateful? Think again
Today, carer @GallusEffie tweeted the following stark reminder
5 Rights I do not have as an unpaid carer
1. I have no right to a living wage. I earn about a tenner less per week than Jobseekers;
2. I have no right to an occupational pension. ( I’ll have no right to carer’s allowance as a pensioner either, if ‘X’ & I are still alive);
3. I have no right to a normal day off, emergency or sickness cover. We do get some respite, but that’s not law, it’s luck;
4. I have no right to training or Health and Safety at work to protect me from moving and handling issues in particular;
5. No European Work Time Directive for me. I exceed 100 hours of caring every week of the year.
It is not surprising that a survey of over 4,000 carers by Carers UK has found that almost 47% are being made ill by money worries. I’m only surprised it isn’t more. Many – indeed most – carers struggle with dreadful daily conflicts between work and care, and an estimated one million have had to give up work or reduce their hours. This loses them an average of £11,000 a year. And often a lot of freedom, companionship and self-esteem in the bargain.
Its a big price to pay for love. Yet carers don’t expect to be thought of as noble: they do it because there are no other options . But it isn’t surprising that they would rather be thought of as the workers they are.
On top of lost earnings, caring for illness and disability also bring increased costs. There are higher household bills, ones for special equipment, foods, medicines, transport -and heating is a terrible problem for people who may be permanently at home and relatively immobile.
There’s a wolf at every carer’s door – and over 4 in 10 say caring has pushed them into the red. And as money worries cause stress, its hardly surprising almost half of the carers who responded to the survey said they were suffering from anxiety and depression because of concern about finances.
Yet when the government pays for respite by an outside body it is in real terms and therefore at a rate that would stagger you, considering how little the carers themselves are required to exist on. Last year I saved up my respite hours and got a 5 day respite from fulltime care –125 hours. This was lovely, I went on honeymoon. But the cost of this care was more than I earn to support my entire family for a month. It may sound contentious but maybe if this kind of money was ploughed into the carers’ lives rather than giving them a break from it, they might need less of a break. Carers need circuses as well as bread: and what use is respite care if you can’t afford to do anything in your time away.
So what to do? strangely there are not many people on the political right or left who wish to acknowledge this problem. Possibly because all past governments have been uncaring as to the carers’ plight.
On the right, there is a lot of head-patting and the suggestion that “if only the magic money fairy existed” all could be made better…but sadly the right don’t believe in fairies.
The left wing tend to refuse to acknowledge the situation at all, in case they might have to admit their past share of responsibility. For example, over the last couple of days whenever I mentioned how badly carers have always done under various governments, certain types of people have refused to acknowledge this as a problem. They skate over the subject completely, returning instead to the iniquitous terms and conditions of various waged, pensioned, holiday-and-sick paid employees.
It is clearly more comfortable for these people to argue the case – for example – that paid care workers are disgracefully badly paid. Which is incontestable – but hardly relevant comment to the plight of the unpaid person working a weekly 168 hours. (Yes, thats what 24/7 caring is: 4.5 weeks work every week. On call, night and day, without let for years – decades, maybe. And all for a carers allowance of 33p per hour if you don’t earn anything else.) This isn’t a hardship, contest, folks. But if it were, unpaid carers would win hands down.
So what’s to be done?
I suggest a serious revision of how carers are supported and viewed. And looking it I don’t think its unduly expensive or ambitious. Just common sense. As follows:
Ensure the state counts the Carers allowance as a wage rather than a benefit, and awards it separately from earnings or other benefits(exactly as DLA as awarded to those who are eligible) rather than clawing back sums in the long-established Scroogery that currently exists.
The government should further relax rules on other employment to allow carers the ‘luxury’ of being able to work, and have some non-caring life outside their responsibilities.
In return for the carers forgiving the government for giving them an allowance so much beneath the minimum wage , the the government should agree pay into the equivalent of an occupational pension for carers to accurately reflect (ok at minimum wage) the real hours spent caring. This could be established by reference to the cared for’s DLA returns and would give carers the prospect of a securer old age after all that work.
There should be a real and appropriate scheme set up to train carers for real , satisfying jobs when their caring roles (often sadly) end. This isn’t a luxury – it is a reward for all the unpaid work they have done without prospect of career advancement.
(I don’t think we can afford to do much about the European Work Time Directive or the sickness cover although, when this country was prosperous we jolly well should have tried to) beyond recognising and respecting those 168 hours on duty each and every week ill or well.
We rely on the love carers feel for those they care for to save the state the real cost of that care. We, the people of the UK need to remember that Carers ARE the money fairy. Tell me who else gives £119bn a year voluntarily to the state and expects so little in return?
Its time for a change.