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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
The Universal Credit £20 uplift awarded to all UC claimants as a result of the pandemic is now due to end on 30th September. What does that really mean to the people it will affect most?
Our Social Welfare Instructor Adam Matthews talks through the implications with Jayne Graham in this 9 minute Bitesize Benefits Briefing.
Why should we think about housing as an employment issue?
It is generally accepted that a stable home is a central plank in anyone’s life. So, it stands to reason that housing is also fundamental to employment and employability. But what housing issues should we be thinking about as employers, aiming to support employee wellbeing, and as employability professionals supporting unemployed people to get back into work?
Location, Location, Location
Before looking at the housing challenges being faced by people on a detail level, I thought it would be useful to take a bird’s eye view first.
The connection between housing with employment actually spans quite a broad spectrum of socio-economic issues, but location stands out as a main concern for a couple of reasons.
- Affordability of housing within a reasonable proximity to a workplace will determine how inclusive recruitment can really be, particularly for part-time and low paid jobs (low paid is classed as those paid less than two thirds of median hourly pay). So where someone lives can be a key determining factor in whether they can work, what work is available to them, and how much they are realistically able to earn, as well as determining their overall cost of living.
- Productivity, with a clear link between housing location and productivity this is a key factor for employers to consider. Interestingly this report from Mercers actually finds that productivity reduces in line with the length of the commute (employees commuting less than half an hour to get to work gain an additional seven days’ worth of productive time each year compared to those with commutes of 60 minutes or more), and that longer commutes appear to have a significant impact on mental wellbeing, “with longer-commuting workers 33% more likely to suffer from depression, 37% more likely to have financial concerns and 12% more likely to report multiple dimensions of work-related stress.” It also stands to reason that employee retention suffers from long distances.
Getting a job and keeping a job
In light of the importance of proximity, maximum 30 minutes journey time being considered to be the optimum for productivity and personal wellbeing, it’s really interesting to note the following:
Claimants for Universal Credit are expected to search for a job located up to 90 minutes travel from their home, a key feature of the DWP’s ‘Claimant Commitment’, the work search contract with DWP which has to be fulfilled for a claimant to successfully receive their benefit.
We need to be thinking carefully about this when supporting people in job search activities. When they get a job will they stay in it if they live too far away, while they’re working will their productivity be impacted by the distance they’re travelling, potentially impacting on how well they are regarded by their new employer, so also affecting future job search prospects if things don’t work out?
For current employees making sure that we really do focus some attention on supporting the welfare of staff who are commuting for over half an hour needs to be a priority for employers. Obviously the increased prevalence of homeworking has started to address this issue for some, but as we know many jobs practically can’t be done from home.
The impact of eviction and homelessness
Now moving on to thinking more about some of the real-life housing challenges people are facing, the worst case scenario has to be the threat of eviction and homelessness and the huge impact that this obviously has on families and employability.
An employee asking for time off work to ‘present as homeless’ to the local authority is unlikely to be something that HR teams have been faced with too regularly, but it really is an increasing problem that has grown even before the financial challenges presented by the pandemic. Alongside the need to take time off work, just facing the prospect of viewing emergency accommodation and the anxiety of being able to find a safe and affordable home as soon as possible can have a devastating effect on mental health and wellbeing. This often results in people being unable to work or, again, can lead to performance issues in the workplace.
If we take it back to basics, the basic physiological need for shelter as explicit in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the very foundation of a life well lived. Right now, it’s reported that 17.5 million people in Britain are facing a housing emergency.
That’s one in three adults, and what if you have children to think about too? With children included this number rises to a staggering 22 million people.
A recent report ‘Heads above Water’ by the National Federation of ALMOs analysing how council tenants and landlords have fared through the pandemic, demonstrated that 80% of income officers had reported higher rent arrears, 77% had seen increased demand for support services and the same number reported increased use of food banks and increased fuel poverty. Three quarters of income officers had also seen increased demand for hardship funds across the UK in the last year. A tidal wave is upon us.
Debt charity StepChange also reports a similar number of struggling tenants, and estimates that 150,000 are at risk of eviction. It says £370m of arrears has been built up as a result of Covid and that more than 850,000 households renting a home are worried about being evicted in the next few months, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Of these, 400,000 have already been served with an eviction notice or told they may be evicted and almost half a million other households are in arrears.
To make the situation worse, many local authorities are stating they will not consider people presenting as homeless with rent arrears for social housing, forcing people into the private rented sector with less security from eviction and poor living conditions, in part because private renters don’t feel able to complain to their landlord for fear of a retaliatory eviction. A number of local authorities have also stated that, unless they receive further funding, they will not be able to keep giving vital discretionary housing payments to tenants in critical need of them to keep them in their homes.
The rise in eviction and possible homelessness is an issue we cannot afford to ignore if we care about improving prospects of employment and employability. Support mechanisms need to be in place for people facing housing struggles, and whether they are employed or unemployed will bring its own challenges, but irrespective of employment status the challenges are significant when it comes to being ready and able to work.
What can we do to help?
The three most common triggers of homelessness in the last year were reported to be households no longer being able to stay with families and friends (32%), the loss of a private tenancy (13%) and domestic abuse (12%).
Even with increased government intervention through the pandemic the threat of homelessness has spiralled, and now the lifting of the eviction ban combined with the end of other government support – such as the job retention scheme, £20 uplift to Universal Credit and discretionary housing payments – which has kept millions of people above the poverty line and safe in their homes, over the next few months there are a lot more problems still to come.
There’s no question that housing is now in crisis as a result of the pandemic, for all of the wrong reasons, and people are significantly more likely to be facing housing-related issues than ever before, whether they are employed or not.
And because the landscape is ever-changing it’s hard to keep up. That was the driver for Society Matters’ launch of a new Housing Matters workshop, to ensure professionals supporting people to retain and gain employment are clear about the challenges being faced by the people they’re aiming to support, and to ensure they are aware of the practical help that’s available to families who are struggling with tenancies in both social housing and private rented accommodation.
Together, our priority needs to be to encourage people to be open about housing issues they’re facing, so they can be helped as early as possible.
People need to be helped to preserve the security of a safe home as a keystone. Only with this in place can they be expected to make positive progress towards, or hold down, a decent job.
By facing up to the complexities and challenges of the housing struggles that are being faced by so many people, there’s a greater chance for us to pass on the practical steps that can be taken to ensure that the priority of employment does not get left behind through a need to focus on basic survival.
Jayne Graham MBE and Adam Matthews, Society Matters cic
Society Matters cic’s mission is to mobilise knowledge so the system works, it works for everyone, and it powers the changes we need to be an equal and inclusive society.
We achieve this through a programme of unique and affordable social welfare and welfare benefits training and support services, designed and delivered by experts who have acute, front-end knowledge, and with social value embedded at their very core, so you can be sure we can help you to make your mark.
Caring for children is one of the most fulfilling experiences an adult can have, and, of course, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if it wasn’t for the hurdles, the massive challenges that parents and carers encounter along the way. Let’s face it, being a carer is tough. Add to that the responsibilities associated with providing a happy, safe, stimulating and supportive family environment for a child or children challenged with physical disabilities, or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. There’s no less love, no less joy, but in many cases there’s a lot more complexity to navigate, including challenges with communication, comprehension, vision, hearing and/or physical functioning.
A recent report highlighted that, on average, families with disabled children face extra costs of £581 a month, and for a quarter of families this rises to over £1,000. In many cases welfare benefits geared specifically to helping with the extra demands and special care needs of children are available, however these benefits are massively underclaimed. One such benefit is Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) for Children. Unlike DLA for adults which is being phased out and replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP), and Attendance Allowance for adults over pensionable age, the DLA benefit for children currently remains intact.
So why are families not getting access to DLA?
Sometimes not applying for DLA is just a decision that families make. That might be because of a reluctance to be seen ‘to be paid’ to look after their child or children – understandable, but the benefit is there to support with the extra costs of looking after a child under 16 who has difficulties walking, or who needs much more looking after than a child of the same age who does not have a disability, so that extra income can really help.
Families can understandably feel quite daunted with the prospect of the 38 page application for DLA for children for which existing guidance is complicated and limited, resulting in a decision not to apply. Those who do apply and fail, often because they haven’t had the support they need to express their circumstances in line with the DWP guidelines, will understandably then give up. However, an appeals process does exist and applicants should be encouraged to try again, with the right support, so we need to make sure they know where to turn for help.
First and foremost, does the family actually know that DLA is available to help them? Many unfortunately don’t. Our mission at Society Matters is to put that right, by building the knowledge of the support systems of the potential of DLA – and other welfare benefits – and to help raise awareness of how to successfully apply for the benefit, to reduce this problem.
We also know that some families assume that they won’t be entitled to the benefit as they think their current income, savings or capital would preclude them from doing so. In fact DLA for Children is not a means-tested benefit so these factors aren’t taken into account, providing a level playing field for all families when applying for the benefit.
Some parents and carers also believe that the benefit won’t apply to them as their child doesn’t have a physical disability, but in fact DLA also supports children with learning or SEND, behavioural or development difficulties. The key factor for meeting the DWP criteria for DLA for children is an ability to demonstrate that the child needs substantially more care, attention or supervision than other children of the same age who don’t have a disability or health condition.
Families also sometimes believe they need to wait until they have a final diagnosis to make an application, particularly with younger children who will struggle to express their needs and frustrations and how they are feeling. Although a diagnosis will help with evidencing the condition, some conditions can take extended periods to diagnose fully, so a claim can still be made in advance of this.
Often in the case of younger children awards can be at a lower level for the care and mobility elements that make up DLA, as more investigation is needed on their conditions by the professionals that are involved in the child’s development. When further evidence is available, supporting a claim that the child may be entitled to a higher rate, there can be a reticence from families to pursue an increased level of benefit in case this results in loss of the initial award altogether. Again this is understandable, but with the right support available to the family this risk is significantly lowered.
So why does the system need to support families to access DLA for children?
As well as the obvious financial benefits that come with benefit awards to meet the extra support needs of children, a successful DLA for children application can actually open doors to other benefits and vital support for families such as blue badges, carers allowance, a Motability car and exemption from the benefit cap. This needs to be understood by families before they make a choice not to make a claim.
The hard fact in a report published by Public Health England 2012 is that children and young people with a disability are more likely to live in poverty than those without a disability. Disabled children have, for a long time, had poor experiences using the welfare system. Difficulty in accessing benefits and delays in payments have often left disabled children financially insecure. So help is critical. A successful DLA for children application can make a huge difference for the family and the child, making sure their needs are met not just at this time but as they progress into adulthood.
You can make your mark
If you’re a professional that may be in a position to support families to understand their potential entitlement for DLA, and would love to be able to make your mark by helping them to make a successful application, we can help. Society Matters cic has designed a half day training workshop, ‘Get to Grips with DLA for children’. Find out more about the course here