Whenever Carers Trust meets with politicians there’s one clear message that we always try to communicate: by investing in carers you’re investing in the wellbeing of society.
7 million unpaid carers across the UK are looking after friends and family – people who would otherwise be dependent on the NHS or social care for help or, worse, have to go without support altogether.
We’re talking about one big caring public service – and unofficial NHS. So, for any government looking to protect the health of the nation, it makes sense to invest in that public service.
And yet, current trends have been sending us in the completely opposite direction.
The combined total of the changes made to benefits eligibility made by the last government is expected to result in unpaid carers experiencing a £1bn cut in the welfare support available to them. 1 in 3 carers are worse off because of their caring role. 3 in 5 feel like they are being “pushed to the brink” and can take no further cut-backs or financial strain. And unfortunately when they’re pushed to the brink so too are the people they care for.
So it was with these trends in mind that we came to the Budget on Wednesday wondering whether the government would finally intervene and stem the tide which has been slowly eroding carer support.
Outwardly, there were some rosy statements: Carers Trust warmly welcomes the Chancellor’s decision to protect disability benefits from the £12bn round of welfare cuts that he unveiled.
But, to us, this is a minimum requirement.
In a climate in which support for social care, health, and the benefits paid to the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable continues to slide, simply halting that decline is not a recipe for proactively creating a healthy nation.
And, of course, as with any budget, the devil is in the detail and in many respects this Budget completely undermined its own stated ambition of “supporting the elderly, the vulnerable and disabled people.”
By further reducing the Benefit Cap, the Chancellor is gradually strangling vital sources of financial support available to carers affected by this – making it harder for them to meet the costs of their care whilst paying for fuel, food, and rent.
We’re also deeply concerned that this Budget could hold back the life-chances of the thousands of young adult carers. The Chancellor announced that the automatic entitlement for 18-21 year olds to Housing Benefit is being scrapped. For any young carer who has taken time out of work or study to look after a friend or family member this seems like an incredibly unjust decision. The move to replace educational maintenance grants – payments that help fund student’s university education – with loans that have to be repaid also throws yet another obstacle into the path of young carers who are looking to get on, learn, and earn. Because of their caring role, they often find themselves in financial difficulties – grants were a way of levelling the playing field. On Wednesday, the Chancellor unlevelled it.
We need the Chancellor and this government to see the bigger picture. Yes, protect disability benefits. Yes, invest more in the NHS. But these are just slices of the bigger pie that makes up our health and social care system.
We need to see investment in welfare support for the 7 million carers that are improving the life-chances of millions of people across the country. We need to finally recognise and celebrate the role of young carers – not saddling them with debt and ask them to choose between caring and receiving essential benefits. We need to increase the support given to social care services so that they can take some of the load off unpaid carers and help them maintain their own health and wellbeing.
With the right policies, we can create a Britain that cares for carers. But, whilst we’ve heard some warm words from the government about helping the most vulnerable and supporting those in ill-health so often it’s where the money goes that makes the big difference and, on current form, carers are still not getting the financial backing they need and deserve.
Matt Hawkins is Policy and Campaigns Officer at Carers Trust