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Pushed to the brink: financial pressure on unpaid carers unsustainable

by Fiona Collie 15 March 2022

“I am anxious & scared of what our living costs will be in the coming months. I’m unable to sleep and worried about surviving” (an unpaid carer, February 2022).

More than half (52%) of unpaid carers are currently unable to manage their monthly expenses, the latest research by Carers Scotland has revealed. 

These results from 249 carers in Scotland were part of a UK-wide survey of 3,300 unpaid carers carried out by Carers UK, and Carers Scotland.

92% of carers have already seen their energy bills increase and over half (59%) worry that  oncoming increases in energy bills and other costs of living will negatively affect their own physical and mental health or that of the person they care for. Many said they were already having to take difficult steps to manage their monthly expenses:  

  • 66% have cut back on heating
  • 17% have already fallen into arrears with their energy bills

In the months ahead:

  • 87% thought that they would not be able to heat their home to a safe level.
  • 41% are worried they will have to use a foodbank.

The findings come as Carers Scotland, as part of Carers UK, launches a Cost of Living campaign.

Unpaid carers often face additional costs associated with needing to keep those they care for safe, providing extra care, nutrition, and support. It is common to have higher energy costs when caring for someone who is unwell or frail, to keep them warm, and to help manage their condition.

Special equipment may be needed which can be costly to run and they may have higher food bills because of nutritional requirements. Transport costs can also be higher because the person cared for is less able to walk or needs to be accompanied to many different medical appointments.

Our research has found that almost two thirds of carers were spending their own money on care or support services or on products for the person they care for.  38% are spending more on supplies to keep the person safe such as PPE, 33% are spending more on supplies such as incontinence pads and 18% are spending more on adaptations or medical devices.

One carer who responded to the survey commented:

“Our son relies on life saving equipment which must be constant and available at all times- i.e., a hospital pressure mattress, an oxygen nebulizer, suction hoist, air conditioning, heating and so on.”

Another said:

“Mum is bedbound with advanced Parkinson's so she needs the house to be quite warm especially when she is being bed-bathed, etc. but we can't afford to keep the heating turned up high.”

Nearly 1 in 6 (59%) are worried that further increases in energy bills will lead to significant financial hardship and nearly all (85%) are worried or extremely worried about how they will manage expenses if costs keep increasing

The cost of living has been increasing for everyone across the UK since early 2021, but in December 2021 inflation reached its highest recorded level since 1992 at 5.2%. The Bank of England has predicted it will reach 7.25% in April. Carers are more likely to be in financially precarious situations and less able to cope with these additional costs.

 Richard Meade, Director of Carers Scotland, said: 

We are seeing unprecedented levels of stress and financial worries piled on unpaid carers. Many were already struggling to manage their monthly expenses before the soaring energy prices and inflation increasing the price of essentials. Now more than half of carers are currently unable to manage their monthly expenses and the majority (85%) think they will not be able to manage if costs keep increasing.

“Many are using what savings they have, credit cards, being pushed into debt and cutting back on essentials to keep the person they care for warm and healthy. They are extremely anxious about how they are going to continue to manage. More than half of carers think the rising energy costs will impact on their health and the health of the person they care for, storing up problems for the future.

“Carers are propping up our health and care system at a huge cost to their own personal health, finances and ability to stay in work. Now the picture is even bleaker, with increasing costs forcing them to cut back on food, on heat, and more than ever are worried that they will be pushed into unsustainable debt.

“There is an urgent need for targeted support for unpaid carers now. Thousands more are being pushed into poverty, and many cares already in poverty will struggle and face even greater financial hardship.  That will have a lasting impact on their finances and quality of life.”

To ensure carers are supported during this extremely difficult time, Carers Scotland, as part of Carers UK, is calling on the UK Government to immediately extend the Warm Home Discount scheme to ensure that it include carers. This is in recognition of the additional energy costs often faced by unpaid carers.

Carers Scotland is also calling for the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to increase Carer’s Allowance and other benefits, in line with current inflation predictions for April 2022. Carer’s Allowance is set to rise by only 3.1% in April 2022, while inflation (CPI) is expected to reach 7.25%.

In addition, the Scottish Government should:

  • also seek to increase devolved benefits in line with current inflation predictions
  • pay a double Carer’s Allowance Supplement payment in 2022, as provided in 2020 and 2021.
  • extend eligibility to unpaid carers and ringfence hardship funding through the Scottish Welfare Fund.
  • develop additional financial support for households with disabled people and carers to meet the increased costs of energy that are higher than the general population. At a minimum, the Government should develop targeted support for disabled people who face the highest costs, particularly those with complex needs and those with additional energy costs that are a key requirement for maintaining their health, wellbeing and independence. This could, for example, include for operating medical equipment such as home oxygen or electric beds to prevent pressure sores, or who require mobility aids such as electric wheelchairs to be charged.
  • urgently reduce care charging: at a minimum requiring all councils to including heating and additional costs of living for disabled and older people within disability related expenditure.
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