To coincide with Carer’s Week, Callum Smith, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the NHC, has examined potential changes – good and bad – that could affect carers in the UK.
According to the Carers Trust, there are almost seven million carers in the UK. They estimate that three in five people will be carers at some point in their lives and that carers are predominantly women (58%).
The Conservative Party was re-elected in May 2015 on a manifesto that promised to “increase support for full-time paid carers”. What – and how – that support manifests itself, possibly through an extension in the number of holiday days available to carers, remains to be seen. In a speech on welfare given in February 2015, David Cameron said:
“We as a country need to do more to recognise Britain’s amazing carers.
“That’s why as a Government we have protected carer’s allowance – and as part of universal credit, it will be easier and more worthwhile for them to work part-time too.
“We’ve also boosted the resources to give carers breaks from caring – and supported the hospice movement which does so much to help this happen.”
But this, set against the Chancellor’s determination to make a further £12bn cut in welfare spending, seems difficult to achieve without some changes to the administration or eligibility of carer’s allowance according to leading economists and think tanks.
Carer’s allowance is currently worth £62.10 a week (or £248.40 a month). It is receivable where the carer is aged 16 or over and spends at least 35 hours a week caring for a person in need of such care. It is taxable and may affect other benefits the claimant is in receipt of.
Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), in a piece that speculated where cuts could come from, have mooted abolishing carer’s allowance all together with those who currently claim the allowance instead claiming other means-tested benefits instead. The IFS estimate that this could save around £1bn a year with lower-income claimants protected if they claim means-tested support.
Three in five people will be carers at some point in their lives.
The government have stated their intention to further reduce the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 in this Parliament. Benefits commonly claimed by households with carers such as disability living allowance, personal independence payment and the support component of employment and support allowance are not affected by the benefit cap. But other benefits such as child benefit, child tax credit, housing benefit, jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance are included in the benefit cap.
The Carers Trust have noted that half of working age carers live in a household where no one is in paid work and thus will be heavily reliant on out-of-work benefits. A lower cap on these benefits has the potential to create difficulties in households with caring responsibilities that rely solely on welfare. Research has shown that almost half of all carers have had to cut back on essentials such as food and heating in the past few years so, again, this presents new challenges for households with significant caring responsibilities.