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Campaigning on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

17 September 2015

Emily Holzhausen
Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Carers UK

This week a Committee of MPs are going through the Welfare Reform and Work Bill in detail. The Bill includes a number of very concerning provisions including changes to Employment Support Allowance, the freezing of many working age benefits and the lowering of the benefit cap. As well as  working in coalition with disability charities through the Disability Benefits Consortium Carers UK has been pressing for specific provisions to try and mitigate some of the impact on carers. 

A key area where we are seeking exemptions for carers is the benefit cap. The benefit cap sets a limit on the total amount in benefits that most working-age people can claim and the new Bill would lower this cap to just £20,000 outside of Greater London and £23,000 within. Whilst people in receipt of disability benefits and their families are exempt from the cap, not all carers live in the same ‘benefit household’ as the person they care for which means they could be affected. For example, carers for adult children will not be exempt from the benefit cap, nor will those who care for their parents or grandparents. If the cared-for person is the spouse or ‘dependent’ child of the carer, the benefit cap will apply. Some carers might be exempt themselves because they receive a disability benefit or they qualify for working tax credits. 

For those affected, the impact could be severe. The Department for Work Pensions has estimated that the average loss to those already affected by the benefit cap is £105 per week. With the proposed reduction to the cap there will be a further loss of £64 per week. The cumulative impact of this, £169 per week, represents an enormous loss to many carers who are struggling to cope with existing financial pressures.

Carers UK believes it is deeply unfair to apply the cap to carers, given their contribution to society, and that doing so sends out a very negative message about the value the Government places on caring. Carers collectively provide £119bn worth of unpaid care for the state. Yet, when we surveyed our members, 49% of carers said that they didn't feel society thought about them at all. Feeling undervalued by society is amplified by the fact that Carer’s Allowance is not included in the list of benefits exempting a person from the benefit cap.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, stated, when the benefit cap was first introduced that it was, ‘A matter of fairness, so that those who are working hard and paying their taxes do not feel that someone else will benefit more by not playing a full part in society.’ If this cap is designed to be fair to individuals who are working hard and playing a full part in society, then it cannot be right that it applies to carers who make such a huge contribution. Carers UK is supporting and briefing on several amendments which would exempt all carers from the cap.

The Welfare Reform and Work Bill will also see certain benefits frozen, not increasing in line with Consumer Price Index for five years. Although some benefits will continue to rise each year, including Carer’s Allowance, the impact of benefit freeze will still be felt by many carers receiving other benefits such as Income Support as only the Carer Premium of the benefit will be protected. There has already been a real terms freeze in benefits with the uprating being changed from Retail Price to Consumer Price Index. The cost of living has also gone up so many carers are losing out financially. From our 2015 State of Caring survey, we know that 41% of carers are cutting back on essentials and a further 26% are borrowing from friends and family. Whilst we welcome the exclusion of Carer’s Allowance from the freeze, it will still have a very negative impact on many carers and their families. Carers UK is pushing for amendments to fully exempt carers from this freeze and highlight that it will have a very damaging impact on the finances of carers and those they care for.

As part of the Bill there will also be a new full employment target. At Carers UK we are calling for the Secretary of State’s annual report on employment to include information about employment support provided to former carers and an obligation to report the number of former carers of working age who have returned to employment. Our research shows that over 2 million people have given up work to care and many of them struggle to return to the workforce once their caring role has come to an end.

The legislation still has a long way to go and we’ll be pressing Parliamentarians throughout its passage through Parliament to seek exemptions and try to get the Bill improved for carers.

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