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"The most unpredictable Election in years provides a good opportunity to take stock and look at what carers want and need"

19 May 2015
Heléna Herklots

Heléna Herklots
Chief Executive, Carers UK

It has certainly been an eventful few weeks. The most unpredictable Election result in years, combined with the release of our latest State of Caring report, provides a good opportunity to take stock and look both at what carers want and need from the new Government, and what plans the next Government might have in relation to carers.

Firstly, we know that carers are on the political radar. There was a welcome commitment to ‘increase support for full time unpaid carers’ in the Conservative Manifesto and carer pledges in all major party manifestos. Our latest State of Caring report demonstrates that carers need more support across the board; to improve their health, to help them juggle care and work and importantly to reduce financial hardship, so these extra measures will be eagerly awaited. Of course, the Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, introduced landmark new rights for carers through the Care Act during the last Parliament, so we hope this commitment is a positive signal that the new Government intends to further build on this legacy.

With the NHS, the big focus of the Election, the Conservative Manifesto commits to increasing NHS funding by £8 billion a year by 2020, in line with the minimum level of funding that NHS England has said it needs to continue current standards of NHS care.  Little further information has been provided about Conservative plans for funding social care, or how the planned shift from hospital based care to more care at home and in the community will be paid for. We know that local authorities are already facing challenging times with squeezed adult social care budgets putting pressure on the availability and accessibility of services for carers. Indeed, almost a third of respondents to our survey said that they or the person they care for have experienced a change in the amount of care and support services that they receive and, of those, 42% said the amount of care and support arranged by social services has been reduced. The fact that cuts are already starting to bite reinforces the urgent need for a sustainable funding settlement to ensure everybody receives the care and support they need.

The pledge to cut £12 billion in social security spending dominated headlines during the campaign, and will continue to do so. Again, the party hasn’t provided detail on where these savings would be found, but has said that a reduction in the benefit cap, and a plan to remove housing benefit from jobless 18 to 21-year-olds, will contribute to lowering the overall amount spent on social security. There is also the intention to ‘freeze’ working age benefits (excluding disability and carers benefits) which means the total household income for some carers may decrease as other family members benefits are frozen.

The announcement of a further cut from an already greatly reduced welfare budget is causing carers a great deal of anxiety, and comes at a time when many are already struggling to make ends meet while feeling undervalued and under supported. Carer’s Allowance is already the lowest benefit of its kind and the changes to the social security system over the last few years, combined with the challenging economic climate, have  made life harder for many carers. Our State of Caring survey shows nearly half of carers are struggling to make ends meet and, of these, 41% are cutting back on essentials such as food and heating.

It is clear that carers need more support from the new Government, not less. Alistair Burt MP has been announced as the new Community and Social Care Minister, replacing Norman Lamb MP. I am writing to Alistair Burt and other key Ministers to tell them about carers’ priorities but you can help us ensure every MP knows what needs to be done by writing to your local MP. You can find a draft letter here.

The State of Caring report shows the urgent need for action to improve support for carers. 40% of carers who took part in the survey want action on financial support to be the top priority for the Government, one in three want the Government to put social care support at the top of the ‘to do’ list. The Government must now listen to carers and seize the opportunity to make sure that, by 2020, carers have reason to feel optimistic about the future.

The Queen’s Speech on 27 May 2015 will set out the Government’s legislative plans for the next year and will provide some more detail on the Government’s immediate priorities. The Chancellor, George Osborne has also announced that there will be a second Budget on 8 July 2015 and this is expected to set out more detail on how reduced spending on social security would be carried out. In the run up to both, Carers UK will be making the case to Ministers and Parliamentarians that there is an economic and practical necessity as well as a moral imperative to support carers better.

  • To download the State of Caring report click here
  • To send a copy of our message to your local MP click here

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