I have written many times about UK Family Carers – and how little they are considered in our society (link here).
Over the last 13 years, I have been pretty angry on behalf of myself, and all the hundreds of thousands like me – and I have not needed to focus my anger on the right or the left. From the family carers’ viewpoint you are both equally guilty. In a world where half the people tell us that ‘if you pay peanuts you get monkeys’ and the other half maintain that workers have very clearly defined rights – but refine the term ‘workers’ to exclude representation or acknowledgement of many of those who work the hardest – family carers have for years suffered a dismissive double whammy as ideological form outweighs any consideration of content..
An estimated 6.4 million people in the UK provide unpaid care to those they love and they are saving the UK economy billions every year – more than the cost of all social care services and all private providers combined.
How many billions exactly? it is hard to estimate – but if you had to replace a full-time carer’s 168hours a week at the Local Authority rate of £18 per hour it would come to £157,248 a year. Without on-costs, sick pay, holiday pay or overtime. Most carers are not full-time – but well over a million are.
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, loses them an average of £11,000pa. And often a lot of freedom, companionship and self-esteem in the bargain. There’s a wolf at every carer’s door – and over 4 in 10 say caring has pushed them into the red. As money worries cause stress, its hardly surprising almost half of the carers surveyed said they were suffering from anxiety and depression because of finances.
It’s 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 rather than the saints they are not.
These days, while we could do with all the support we can get, family carers find ourselves once more at the mercy of the uncaring – those determined to make political capital out of our misery – scaring us with untruths, half-assertions and downright lies. (Amongst these I am particularly impatient with the Labour party in opposition, who, after 13 years being wholly careless of carers, now suddenly and miraculously care frightfully for our plight. “Oo we doo care,” they moo. “Your problems are due to the Coalition cuts.” No they jolly well aren’t, you weasels. Our problems remain the same as they were when you held the purse strings – and I’d respect you a bit more if you admitted this) .
I’ve argued many times that the money spent on supporting carers was improperly focused. Carers live on the breadline – yet when respite care is funded it has to be in real terms and therefore at a rate that would stagger one, considering how little the carers themselves are required to exist on. I’ve postulated that if this kind of money was ploughed directly into the carers’ lives rather than aromatherapy and sympathy and NHS Trust initiatives, it might go further to help. 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 has happened? Someone listened!
The Coalition government allocated £400million over 4 years and given directly to individual carers to give carers breaks. The rationale is, as the Chief Executive of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers puts it, ”Without these vital breaks, carers can often reach a breaking point where they can no longer continue, and their own physical and mental health deteriorates as result.” Yes.
Today I was offered a carers respite grant – the first sign in thirteen years of fulltime caring that the powers that be think of me as anything other than a draught horse or similar beast of burden. Thank you, Suffolk Family Carers. Thank you, Coalition government. Thank you, Paul Burstow, the man behind this allocation.
And I feel better already – it’s the thought that I have value as a person in my own right.
Please, if you are a fulltime carer, ask your local authority about this, NOW. Details on the iCare budget for carers in Suffolk are here
Of course this grant is lovely but there is much still to aim for – there are not many people either on the political right or left who wish to acknowledge the extent of family carers problems. 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. Whenever I’ve 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-overtime-and-sick-paid employees.
It is clearly more comfortable for such 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, that’s 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 reiterate my Modest Proposal for Family Carers. And looking it I still don’t think its unduly expensive or ambitious. It is, however, just. 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 was awarded to those who 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.
The bottom line still is that 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 magic money fairy.
Tell me who else gives billions of pounds a year voluntarily to the state and expects so little in return?