Care and the care sector has been very much in the news over the past couple of weeks, with a new tax planned to build the capacity of care in the UK. However, what about those carers who are providing care that aren’t part of the formal care system?

It is inevitable that many of us will care for a relative, partner or friend with a disability or long-term health condition in our lifetimes. There are already an estimated 6 million carers in the UK  and over 2 million more people become new carers every year. So it’s highly likely that you’re already a carer yourself, or you know someone who’s a carer.

The financial realities of care

Life as a carer can prove stressful, juggling employment with caring responsibilities, navigating the difficulties of the complex welfare benefit system, and keeping yourself above the poverty line. Taking on caring responsibilities can also often be unexpected, so understandably can be a shock to the system, and often life changing for the carer as well as the person being cared for.

Without access to the right support this can take a serious toll on the carer’s quality of life. Critically the most immediate impacts tend to be personal finances and mental health, both of which can also have a major impact on their capacity as a carer.

Recent research from Carers UK also found that 10% of carers in the UK are from a Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. Worryingly the report found that more than 60,000 BAME carers in England said they were actually in poor health themselves, slightly higher than ‘White British’ carers, presenting a worrying picture. Particularly as  the research shows that BAME carers provide more care proportionately than White British carers, and therefore putting them at greater risk of ill-health, loss of paid employment and social exclusion.

The economics

Unpaid carers take a huge burden off the NHS and Local Authorities when it comes to spending.

In 2019 it was estimated by Carers UK that carers actually save the economy £132 billion per year, a significant average of £19,336 per carer. This reinforces the substantial contribution carers are making not only to society, to family and friends, but also to the public purse – albeit it doesn’t appear that this is reflected in social policy.

Carers are susceptible to poverty

It is a sad fact that, despite these savings, carers are highly likely to be at risk of poverty in the UK. The majority of carers are of working age and 5 million people in the UK are juggling caring responsibilities with work – that’s 1 in 7 of the total UK workforce who juggle low paid work and care.

To make this worse, the welfare benefit system can prove difficult for carers to access. For example, a carer can’t earn more than £128 a week on average to be eligible for Carers Allowance and needs to care for the person 35 hours a week minimum. Even for those eligible, the payments are as low as £67.60 a week which rarely makes up for lost income through reducing hours to provide capacity for caring responsibilities. The carer’s element of Universal Credit is £163.73 a month. Again, this is low in comparison to other benefits in the UK.

The system supporting those needing care is also tricky to navigate. Critically, the person being cared for needs to be on a qualifying disability benefit before a carers allowance application can be made, and this is something families find difficult to do without support – more awareness of this issue and the sources of support available is critical to ensuring carers can access the benefits they need to support them in their lives while they take on the huge responsibility of a caring role.  

4 practical steps carers can take to maximise their income

  1. Get a full benefit check for both the person being cared for and the carer as soon as possible, to make sure both are getting everything that you are entitled to. Remember the person being cared for will need to be on a qualifying disability benefit before the carer is entitled to anything so will need support with the correct application process Talk to Citizens Advice as early as possible if you need help.
  2. Arrange a Needs Assessment and a Home Assessment from your local authority to make sure the person being cared for gets all the assistance they are entitled to. Make a list of all the person’s care needs and whether they are being met or not. Try your best  not to downplay the condition and needs that they have – be honest, but thorough, and asking someone else to check it to make sure you haven’t missed anything is always a good idea.
  3. Get a Carers Assessment from your local authority. Make sure you make a list of all the tasks and challenges you face as a carer – again ask someone to check this if you can, as they may help you to think of things you didn’t. Another good idea is to keep a diary so you do not miss on all the tasks you do as a carer and highlight where support is needed before the assessment. Always remember, this is not about you asking to be ‘paid to care’ – this is about you accessing support to enable you to care, taking some of the financial strain away so you can care more effectively – for yourself as well as the person you’re caring for.
  4. Look for carers’ support locally. Local charities may help with much needed respite for carers or help with shopping, for example. This can help the carer rest and avoid burnout. Carers.org is a great place to start to find local support for both young and adult carers.

Carers matter.

They provide a critical support to millions of people across society, often the ‘unsung heroes’ who are saving the public purse a significant amount of money, and maintaining a quality of life for those who have found themselves in their care. We need to support carers to navigate the system, and to maintain their own quality of life, their mental health and their finances whilst undertaking the crucial role of being a carer.

If you provide welfare support to people with caring responsibilities, we can help you to make your mark on their lives through accessible training on the topic of Carers and Caring Matters.