Today is Carers Rights Day. Always something to bring a wry smile to the face of your average unpaid carer. Carers rights? Wrongs more like.
And this year the Covid pandemic has made the situation for Britain’s unpaid carers – statistically more often women than men – worse than ever. New research published by charity Carers UK shows that unpaid carers provided support valued at £530 million for every day of the pandemic. Some must have been due to the increase in those needing care but I am sure part of this increase was because the limited support enjoyed (o so enjoyed) by carers evaporated in lockdown.
The numbers of unpaid carers also rose in 2020 – from the pre-pandemic 9.1 million (57% women) to the current appalling 13.6 million (1 in 5 of the population). An extra 2.7 million women (59% of the 4.5m increase ) and 1.8 million men have started caring for relatives who are older, disabled, or living with physical and/or mental disabilities -because of the pandemic.
So, on Carers Rights day, how about pondering what human rights our country’s 13.6 million unpaid family carers actually have?
Right to equality? Try it. Next time someone asks what you do, say you are a family carer, and watch how your status slips. Your work is not even worthy of pay. Your conversation, contacts, experience not worth their time.
Freedom from discrimination? In law maybe, but in real life? How many carers suffer constructive dismissal? How many never get employment? And how many carers can say, hand on heart – they were never discriminated against because employers, colleagues, party remenbered they were covered under the Equality Act 2010 by the protected characteristic of the person they cared for? I certainly can’t.
Freedom from slavery? Many carers work around the clock 24/7 without a break, without pay, without consideration. And I do mean work. Slavery? I say nothing.
Right to remedy by a competent tribunal/ right to fair public hearing/ right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Carers remain the punchballs, relied on as workhorses by paid and unionised professionals to do unstinting work on their behalf, and yet all too often they also are Cinderellas who can be blamed, opinions dismissed or even find themselves demonized without redress for pointing out any mishap.
Right to Rest and Leisure. When a carer works 24/7, this is truly laughable.
Right to Adequate Living Standard? The meagre Carer’s Allowance for carers who care more than 35 hours a week (currently £67.25 a week and an unpaid Carers’ only benefit) cannot be claimed if a carer is young, a student, retired, or earning more than £122 net a week. This means the government expects an unpaid carer to live on a maximum of £10,140 a year – if they manage to wrap some work around full time care. Does that seem adequate to you? It’s £27.78 a day. Compare that with recent complaints that £150,000 was not enough for Boris Johnson to live on.
The bottom line is that carers wouldn’t need a Carers Rights Day if the state had ever given unpaid Carers any meaningful rights.
Carers need to be seen as the workers they are, so that the real cost of that care: the often long and unremitting working hours, the loss of careers, the impact of poverty and poor health, the absence of employment-related pensions – all these might be factored into the support offered them.
And then that support was offered!
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge
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