3 Feb 2014

Benefit reforms could push full-time carers into debt and food poverty

In many ways, the army of carers looking after their disabled, elderly or seriously ill relatives epitomise what David Cameron means by Big Society. They are – day in day out – helping take some of the burden that would otherwise fall to local authorities, the NHS or central Government.

Yet a detailed analysis by the charity, Carers UK, reveals that over the next four years they are facing a £1bn cut to financial help. This, the charity says, is pushing them into debt, arrears and food poverty.

There are around 6.5 million carers in the UK – 58 per cent are women and 42 per cent are men. The charity estimates that they save the economy £119 billion a year – an average of £18,473 for every carer.

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Now, following a year-long investigation into the cost of caring for an older or disabled relative, the charity says cuts to the financial support of full-time carers between 2011 and 2018 include:

Carer’s allowance: £175.63m cut
24,457 fewer entitled to the carer’s allowance with implementation of the Personal Independence Payment.

Bedroom tax: £150.70m cut
At least 40,000 carers to see rent support cut by over £700 a year because of the housing benefit ‘spare room’ changes.

Benefit cap: £72.4m cut
At least 2,946 carers to see incomes capped, losing an average of £105 a week.

Inflation switch: £421.91m cut
Dramatic devaluing of the carer’s allowance by 2018 with the switch from the Retail Prices Index to the Consumer Prices Index.

Real-terms cut to Help For Poorest: £76.94m cut
350,000 worst-off carers hit by means-tested benefits freeze.

Council tax support: £170.34m cut
Over 240,000 carers face additional council tax charges following the scrapping of the council tax benefit.

Helena Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “These are families already struggling to make ends meet, often having been forced to quit work to care full-time for ill or disabeld love ones.

“Now they face even greater hardship as cuts to disability benefits kick in and start to strip even more carers of their allowances. By pushng the nation’s carers to financial breaking point, the government is undermining our families’ ability to care for each other.”

The charity accuses the government of ‘hitting’ the carers by benefit cuts which are designed to move people into work and penalise those who are ‘not contributing to society’.

The realities facing full-time carers

Eleanor Condron, of Colne in Lancashire, cares for her partner Simon Carter, who has Type 1 diabetes and is a paraplegic following a serious motorbike accident seven years ago. Simon is a paralysed from the ribcage down, he needs a wheelchair and needs constant care. Eleanor was working as a special needs teaching assistant and tried initially to combine work and caring but it eventually became impossible.

03_wheelchair_g_wCaring is full-time for Eleanor and they had no support from care services for seven years, and have only got some help from care workers recently when Simon’s condition deteriorated. They were also moved between different social housing accommodation until four years ago, when they were placed in an adapted two bedroom bungalow which has been further adapted for them.

Simon sleeps in a hospital bed, so they can’t share, but Eleanor has a small bed pushed up against the wall in their room as she has to be there throughout the night in case he has a seizure, ‘autonomic dysreflexia’ (dangerous hypertension common with spinal cord injuries), or needs changing or toileting. There is no other space in the room because of her bed and the space needed around his bed to allow him to get out of his wheelchair and to enable Eleanor to lift and care for him. Their second bedroom houses their other furniture and equipment like his wheelchair.

Yet they are being told this room is spare and are having to find £46 a month, over £550 a year, as their housing benefit is cut because of the size criteria ‘bedroom tax’ changes, the switch from RPI to CPI that will leave them hundreds of pounds worse off by 2018, the means tested benefits 1 per cent freeze, and the possible loss of disability benefits and Eleanor’s carer’s allowance as a result of the introduction of the new Personal Independence Payment. They already feel isolated by Simon’s disability and the cost pressures on them – ‘stuck in the same four walls’ and rarely able to get out of the house.

They point to the changes to disability living allowance which is to be replaced by personal independence payment. The government’s own impact assessments indicate that there will be a reduction in disability benefits which will, in turn, mean a reduction in the allowance the carer receives. In fact, Carers UK believes that as a result of the introduction of PIP, about 24,457 fewer carers will receive this allowance.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We recognise that carers provide an invaluable service to people in some of the most vulnerable circumstances in our communities.  That’s why we’re spending around £2bn this year on carer’s allowance, and even more in the future.

“Universal credit will ensure that those carers on low incomes receive the support they need by allowing them to keep more of their own money as they move into work.  It will also give carers more flexibility if they need to take a break.

“The greater simplicity of universal credit will also help substantially increase the take-up of currently unclaimed benefits, especially among those at the lower end of the income distribution.”

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