IT’S time the Government had another look at the precise meaning of the term “carer”. There are millions of people who look after family members and close friends without considering themselves such.
It’s not like any other job. There is no application form, or interview process. It’s a role many of us slip into gradually. One day it’s just picking up a few groceries for an older relative as we do our own shopping. The next, it’s driving them to the shop. A week later, because they are not well enough to drive themselves, it’s taking them for a medical appointment.
A month later, your phone is beside the bed every night in case an incident happens – perhaps a fall – and the person you are now properly “caring” for needs your help. As you are a caring person, by nature, you can’t or won’t step away from your responsibilities.
I do it for my parents. If you are not already doing it for yours, you may well be soon. The voluntary sector organisation Carers’ UK believes that at least three out of five adults will become carers at some point in their life.
In the majority of cases, the person being cared for is a family member. Despite what certain politicians and doomsayers would have us believe, the sheer number of carers in the UK prove that such family bonds are as strong as ever. Carers UK estimates that there are around seven million carers – around one in 10 people. This includes children and teenagers who find themselves caring for sick and disabled parents.
And so it goes on until “caring” becomes a full-time, constantly on-call 24/7/365 job. Here’s the thing which Government ministers seem incapable of taking on board. Often, this demanding and heart-searching job is fitted in around a person’s main job, plus the demands of generally looking after a family and running a home.
I’ll leave aside for a moment the physical, emotional and mental toll this exacts and concentrate on hard economic reality. Any carer will tell you that they have had to take time off to help the person they are looking after. Any carer will also tell you that their ability to carry out their established line of work has been at some point affected by exhaustion, lack of concentration and poor focus because their mind is elsewhere.
For many carers, carrying out a full-time job under the circumstances becomes impossible. They may opt to reduce their hours, or take a less demanding job. And of course, this can have a massive financial impact on the whole family. There are people who think that you should care for relatives out of the goodness of your own heart. For many families, though, this becomes an impossible financial squeeze.
The person doing the caring cannot be in several places at once; caring, at work, running their own home. And let’s spare a thought for those who are actually being cared for.
If you were an elderly person whose son or daughter looked after you day and night, would you expect them to do it all for nothing, forsaking their own salary and job security to do so?
You might think in a civilised and relatively prosperous country, this would be addressed by the welfare system. After all, the army of unofficial carers who toil around the clock to look after others are saving millions if not billions every year in the costs of social care.
There you would be wrong. Carers’ Allowance is the princely sum of £62.10 a week. I’ve analysed and researched and thought about it, and I cannot see any justification for this sum. Just what is it supposed to represent? The official guidelines say that in order to even begin to claim, you have to care for a person for 35 hours a week. So that vetoes anyone who might try to juggle most other jobs, before we even start doing the calculations.
What kind of minimum weekly wage does this equate to? I’ll tell you, because I’ve worked it out. It’s £1.77 an hour, or less. In comparison, from April, the National Minimum Wage will be £7.50 for an adult over the age of 25. In hard economic terms, then, is this how much successive governments really value the role that carers play in keeping other people alive?
What this derisory sum actually does is cause a problem, not solve one. It forces those with caring responsibilities to give up work, and adds to the welfare bill overall.
The only way to care full-time and survive financially is to step away from the workplace and claim benefits. If you earn more than £110 a week, you won’t be entitled to Carer’s Benefit, simple as that. If you give up work though, other benefits will escalate to help you scrape by. It’s nothing short of a scandal.
No wonder those who care so much for others think there is simply no point bothering to try to keep their “official” job as well. Do you think the Government cares though? It’s time they told us.