As energy prices soar and millions of households across the UK face increased fuel and household bills, unpaid carers are even less well placed to cope than many with additional costs, without urgent measures.
The charity is calling for carers to be included in any extension of the Warm Home Discount scheme, additional support for carers with energy bills and action to help carers on Carer’s Allowance whose incomes are falling behind inflation.
With inflation now at 5.4% (December 2021) and predicted to rise further by April, plus soaring energy bills, there is widespread concern around people’s finances. Benefits are set to rise by 3.1% in line with CPI in September 2021 leaving a gap of 2.3% for people on the lowest incomes – essentially a real term cut in the value of their benefits.
Carers often face higher bills – particularly energy bills – than the wider population when caring for someone frail or unwell and desperately need targeted support to ensure they can continue to pay their bills over the coming months.
In our State of Caring 2021 report[i], published in November, 23% of unpaid carers said they did not have enough money to manage their monthly expenses. Many told us that they were anxious about covering even basic costs this winter.
A further 18% said they are in or have been in debt because of caring in the past year, and 6% could not afford utility bills like electricity, gas, water, or telephone bills. These figures sharply rise to 44% of those providing more than 35 hours of care per week.
More than a third of carers (36%) have told us their finances have got worse since the start of the pandemic. Of those carers who told us they are struggling to make ends meet, 13% have cut back on essentials like food and heating. For those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance, this picture is even bleaker: a fifth (20%) are having to cut back on essentials and 19% using credit cards or having to borrow from family and friends.
One carer told us: “Carer’s Allowance is so low that my teeth are starting to fall out because I can’t afford the dentist for me and my son. Energy prices are escalating – I dread my Winter fuel bill.”
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
“We are seeing unprecedented levels of stress and financial worries piled on unpaid carers. Many were already struggling to manage their monthly expenses and the increases in energy bills and cost of living could push them into financial difficulty.
“It is absolutely vital that the Government acts urgently to ensure that carers are supported in the face of the UK’s cost of living crisis, and by any short-term intervention the Government makes, for example by extending the Warm Home Discount scheme. Steps must also be taken to address the longer-term financial insecurity carers face.
“Without additional support, unpaid carers could be pushed into poverty that will have a lasting impact on their finances and quality of life. Carer’s Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind and must be reviewed. The Earning Threshold of Carer’s Allowance must be increased to ensure that carers are able to choose to work and are protected from financial hardship.”