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Carers being sold short

30 May 2007

New Carers UK report, Real change, not short change, presses for full review of incomes and services for carers and their families

 

A deeply worrying new report on the long term financial impact of caring is launched by Carers UK today (Wednesday, 30 May 2007).

Based on a survey of nearly 3,000 carers, it finds that they face a severe financial penalty as soon as they start caring, unpaid, for a disabled or chronically ill relative or friend. Yet, by contrast, their support is worth a staggering £87 billion per year to the state.

The survey shows that carers are having to sell their homes, cut back on food, heating and clothes, give up their jobs, and sacrifice their pensions - leaving many deeply anxious about their financial future.

It reveals very clearly that the current benefits system does not allow carers an acceptable standard of living and neither recognises nor values them for the contribution they make to the national economy.

Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK says: "Carers are often forced out of work because the social care system does not give them the support they need to balance work and caring. They are then consigned to a life on the margins because the benefits system is so outdated. Carers feel short-changed by the system.

"Demographic trends point to the need for an additional three million carers over the next 30 years. It means that some 10 million people will experience the harsh realities that come from being a carer - and the detrimental effects that can remain with them for the rest of their lives.

"Carers' benefits simply are not fit for purpose", Imelda Redmond continues. "They were designed in the 1970s when the world was a very different place. What we need is a radical overhaul of the benefits and tax system. We also need to invest heavily in social care to ensure that carers and their families can take advantage of things that others take for granted – like going out shopping, having a weekend away, going on a course or having a job."

The survey finds that:

72% are worse off since they started caring

65% are not in paid work

54% give up work to care

53% say that financial worries are affecting their health

33% are in debt

30% are cutting back on food or heating

10% cannot afford to pay their rent or mortgage

Jill Pay cares for her daughter Rowan, 18, who is severely disabled. She says: "Families like mine are living under constant financial pressure. I would not change the fact that I care for Rowan. However, I just want the same opportunities as everyone else to work, study and bring up my family.

"The benefits system means carers who are unable to work suffer the stigma of being classed as unemployed. This not only impacts on us financially, but also undermines our self-esteem and makes us feel like second class citizens. When you consider the enormous contribution we make - equivalent to a second NHS - this social and financial discrimination is shameful."

The survey also looked into the obstacles that carers face to remain in work. Nearly half (45%) of respondents said they would like to work. But six in ten working age carers say that the reason they cannot work is due to the level and complexity of the care they provide.

According to the report, caring hits hard in the first year with carers struggling to cope with the changes in their personal situation and their finances. They find they have to give up work at the same time as they have to bear the extra costs of disability. After that, there is a steady decline in their financial situation over time.

Parents of disabled children under the age of 18 and those caring for adult disabled children struggle the most on the financial front. Similarly those carers under 60 years old are severely affected, suffering greater debt, have difficulty in paying bills and having to borrow from friends and family.

Imelda Redmond concludes, "The National Carers Strategy review, announced by Government, is a golden opportunity to review the system for carers and get it right. It's time for a social contract between Government and carers.

"The survey has also shown that when Government has invested in carers, in practical support and in their incomes, it has made a difference. What we need is for this support to continue."

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