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Capping it off – the hidden hole in new carers benefits

As a Scot working south of the Border in health and care policy, it’s not often I get to work on something that affects my friends up north  just as much as my neighbours and colleagues down here in the green and pleasant  land.  It’s sad but true that when I do work on a “reserved” issue (i.e. something which the Westminster parliament keeps power over) then it’s never good news because it’s always about cutting welfare benefits.  I should probably say “reforming” rather than “cutting”  of course, but from my experience, it’s  not often  about more money going in and very often more money being taken away.

You might have heard  last year that  Government said they’d leave Carers Allowance alone, for the time being at least . Well this was good news. Of course, it’s nothing like enough money. £58.45 a week (the amount for 2012/13) is not exactly a king’s ransom for people who are providing 35 plus hours of caring a week. But still it’s better than nothing.  And in general the new Universal Credit should be beneficial to carers who are on lower incomes, because instead of losing all your Carers Allowance if you go over  the £100 earnings threshold, there will be a taper – as the amount you earn goes up, the amount of benefit goes down. Less of a cliff edge has got to be a good thing.

But one thing seems to have been overlooked. Have you heard about the benefit cap? It’s been in the news quite a bit recently. Basically the Government is saying that there should be a limit on how much any one family can get from the state in benefits – £500 a week for families. Sounds like a lot, but  especially in the south east, you don’t get a lot for that for example if you have kids and need a three or four bedroom place to live. It won’t apply if you have a council house, but I seem to remember we sold most of them.

The cap won’t apply to carers who live with someone on Personal Independence Payment (PIP)  or one or two other benefits which are exempt. However, there are carers who don’t live with the person they care for. If, for example, you care for your sister who has  multiple sclerosis who lives in the next street.  Then, in order to mimic work patterns, your benefits could be capped as we are all supposed to be better off in work than out of it and if you want more money than this you better get out and earn it.  So, if you live in private rented accommodation, you might find your housing benefit reduced… meaning you can’t afford the rent and  have to move… meaning who cares for your sister in the next street?

The Government knows about this but it’s just not a big enough issue for them to want to fix it seems. I think it’s a massive issue. The very fact that the cap is there to “make work pay” and encourage people to go to work,  and it can possibly be applied to this group of people who are fully occupied in  difficult caring roles  and therefore saving the state millions of pounds a year, is pretty insulting.  What about making caring pay? Anyone feel a letter to an MP coming on?

February 21, 2012 Posted by | Carer's Allowance, Employment, Social Care | | 3 Comments