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Unpaid carers need a fairer deal

by Stephanie Millar, policy manager (Social Justice team).

This article was first published in the Herald on 24 October 2022.

Unpaid carers across the UK provide an estimated £60 billion of care per year. Yet they are more likely to be in poverty than non-carers. 

Professional care agencies are struggling to recruit paid carers, which means disabled and older people are having their care packages going partly un-filled. As a result, unpaid carers are having to work harder than ever. Some who are in employment may be reducing their work hours to manage their additional caring responsibilities. The consequence of this will be reduced income for the carer and their household, and in a cost of living crisis this can have a significant impact.

Data from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that informal carers are already more likely to be in poverty than non-carers, and this problem increases the more hours of care they provide. In other words, carers are already struggling financially and under the current system the situation looks set to get worse. 

Carers are less likely to be in full-time work than non-carers. Of the carers the Scottish CAB network sees, only 13% of those of working age have a full-time job. A similar number are in part-time work, which leaves almost three quarters not in paid employment at all.

I recently wrote an article here which highlighted the additional costs disabled people need to pay, e.g. buying/maintaining equipment, as well as having to use taxis to get around. So carers are likely to experience a double hit on their finances if the person they care for is part of their household. And even if they’re not, a fifth of the carers we see are disabled themselves.  

The current benefit support for carers - Carer’s Allowance  – is inflexible and doesn’t recognise the many and varied types of carer or the range of ways care is provided, so many carers miss out on the support they need. For the system to work better many of its rules and restrictions need to change.  

The Scottish Government has committed to making a new style carer’s payment and has begun to develop a better system. CAS and other charities have been arguing for greater financial support for carers, absolutely, but also for greater flexibility in the system so that it can accommodate different caring commitments.

The government’s initial proposals seem to reflect this greater ambition for carer’s benefit in Scotland. The proposed changes bring more carers within the scope of the benefit and the payment is greater. Financial stability is crucial to carers who can’t commit to fixed employment patterns because of their variable caring patterns. The intention of many of the new proposals is to provide stability for the carer, so  that they can continue in education or increase their working hours, without them having to come off the benefit. This is very welcome.

However, the actual amount of money carers will get is of course key. In our response to the Scottish Government’s consultation we made clear the main purpose of carer’s social security payments should be to equally compensate carers for income they would have earned through employment, thus recognising the equal value of the work that is caring.  

Informal carers provide essential support but can be pushed into poverty as a result. More needs to be done to support them financially.