Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Carers Week: It's time for Revolution

In Carers Week one important thing springs to mind. We have spent years having carers weeks, successive governments have hailed carers as heroes, leaders of parties and MPs have eagerly turned up for a photo-shoot with a world wearied carer and proceeded to trot out the lines of "unsung heroes" "saving the country millions in care costs". But then comes the inevitable walk- away, photo opp done, issue forgotten about.

Let's change the narrative. Let's talk about the issues that really matter to carers and let's campaign for a revolution in how Carers are treated, supported, financially rewarded in a socially just Britain in the 21st century.

For decades carers have been lauded but not heard, praised but not rewarded. It is time to campaign to change all that. But what are the issues facing carers today?

The first involves treating both carers and the disabled or elderly person (s) they care for not as stand alone individuals but with needs that are linked. An holistic approach. We need to join up GPs, hospitals and social services with a care and support package for both the person involved and the carer. With the current swathes of red tape concerning Disability Living Allowance and the new Persomal Independence Payment (PIP) and only being allowed to have a carer if the disabled or elderly person receives a certain rate of the allowance, the whole thing is a maze of confusion for any carer negotiating it. A GP assessment of the disabled/elderly person alongside the carer and a referral to social services where the carers needs are assessed is a good starting point. This means there is no gaming of the system and carers can be treated with respect and dignity. Social services can provide support on caring for the disabled/elderly person, advice on respite breaks and also support carers when the going gets tough.

Either from the time a child is born disabled, or equally if an elderly relative begins to suffer from dementia, carers may have to cope with a whole lifetime on Carers Allowance or give up their job suddenly and revert to a full time caring role. Current rules mean you can only claim carers allowance at the derisory rate of £61.25pw if you are caring for a person more than 35 hours per week and are over 16.  Some carers are also caring for more than 1 person with a disability, yet receive the same cursory £61.25pw whether caring for one person or three. This needs a radical rethink.Young carers under 16 and there are currently 700,000 of them in the UK receive £0. Most, if not all, are juggling school with caring responsibilities. How is that deemed acceptable in 21st century Britain? No child under 16 should be caring for a disabled or addicted parent/relative yet this supposedly civilised country expects them to. Not only do we expect them to but we also expect them to do it for nothing.

The whole system of Carers Allowance is archaic, unreasonable and not fit for purpose yet no government seems keen to tackle it. There are 7 million disabled people in the UK. There are 6.5 million carers. Even on a cynical basis has no political party stopped to think about the number of votes it could potentially gain if it reached out to both?

Some carers may feel able to juggle caring with a job. Yet straightaway the Government under the DWP impose strict rules for daring to do so. If you earn 1p over £100 per week your carers allowance is stopped completely.  This has huge financial implications and becomes a game of cat and mouse with employers. I spoke to a cleaner at a nursing home recently, who was balancing caring for her elderly mum with Alzheimer's with a part time cleaning job. As Mum lived with her, she wanted the job to basically have time for herself and to earn some much needed cash. She had arranged with Social Serbices for Mum to go to a day care centre 9am - 2pm for three days a week. Her employer has been incredibly supportive and has asked her to consider working more hours as she is a good conscientious worker. However although she would love to take her employer up on the offer she cannot or she will lose her carers allowance for breaching the £100pw rule, yet still have to care for Mum for more than 35 hours a week.

A totally unfair and  unjust DWP policy and one that needs changing - NOW! Carers who work are more often than not working in either a menial minimum wage job or trying to scrabble a few pennies together becoming a self employed sales rep with Avon or Betterware. I know because as a parent
 of an autistic son I have done this job myself. The pay is pitiful, and it takes a lot of effort and often
recalls, and expenditure on petrol to do your sales round. It is time to actually face up to the fact carers have talents other than caring! There are many trapped into a life of poverty simply due to caring for disabled relatives. Our choice was taken away often overnight and careers halted and aspirations crushed. Again let's campaign to get this old narrative changed! If carers have the sheer will and guts to juggle caring with work let's financially reward their efforts, do away with this ludicrous limit on £100pw or you lose your carers allowance business, and help carers as much as we can. Carers are being broken under the current system - these heroes who save the country millions every year in care costs. The forgotten heroes. Let's fight for a system that encourages their talents and aspirations and acknowledges the huge burden of caring responsibilities.

A new system with an in built safeguard of GP and social services assesment must then seek to pay carers a realistic amount in Carers Allowance. I would boldly propose at least Minimum Wage and moving to a Living Wage, but I think a realistic starting point would be to raise Carers Allowance to a basic £100pw with annual reviews and campaigning to progress to a decent level of  payment. Once the bureaucracy is simplified, this is a realistic proposal.

So stop the empty rhetoric, the half hearted sympathy. Carers do not want your sympathy. They want a Government who recognises their value, rewards their hard work, and gives them avenues out of poverty without punishing them.

Not too much to ask eh?