CarersBlog

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Carers are still not getting the financial backing they need and deserve

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. Continue reading

July 16, 2015 Posted by | Benefits, Funding | | 5 Comments

New Government, new MPs – what next for carers?

It’s fair to say that the general election result was as much of a surprise to us at Carers Trust as it was to everyone else, including the Conservative party. We were all set to fire off briefings to those brokering potential coalitions, asking them to prioritise social care, but none of that turned out to be needed.

So now we are taking stock. Continue reading

May 13, 2015 Posted by | Benefits, Funding, General Election, Health | 2 Comments

Time to change the story on benefits

A recurring issue in the news throughout this government’s time in office, and to be fair, in the last one too , is what welfare benefits we pay and  to whom. There’s a repeated theme reflected not only in government but to a largeBenefits extent in the wider community  that somehow we are paying far too much to far too many people. This argument has gathered pace to the extent that the word “benefits” has become associated with “scroungers” and people who aren’t quite pulling their weight. Continue reading

October 21, 2013 Posted by | Benefits | 2 Comments

Better Carers Assessments: a gateway to support

Carers Assessments

I’m a person who has hobby horses. No, I don’t mean the toys, but issues that I keep coming back to because, in my mind, they are just so obviously important. And at the moment, one of my hobby horses is carers assessments.

Carers assessments in some places have a bit of a bad rep. Many carers say they don’t know if they’ve had one, or if they have, they feel nothing really came of it.

There are lots of issues here. The term  “assessment” is problematic. Some carers worry about this and think they’re being tested and might be told they’re not good enough. Others feel it’s just a tick box process and their needs are not being taken seriously.

However, what I feel passionately about, is that if a carers assessment is done well it has the potential to be a really positive experience. For some carers it may result in the provision of a service or a personal budget, but for others it might not. It should nevertheless result in the identification of what support and resources could help, and the chance to talk through what is working and what is not. Sometimes this might be the only time a carer might feel anyone is listening to them and their needs, so it’s important this is done properly.

The draft Care and Support Bill opens up the way for more carers in England to have access to a carers assessment, and so it’s an opportune time to be thinking about how we can ensure theyare done well.

Carers Trust has been working with Skills for Care to find out more about what carers think on this matter. We carried out three focus groups, and the keys things carers said were needed were:

  • An assessment where there is a clear outcome. Carers welcomed receiving a note of the discussion and a clear menu of support options, whether these are general or universal sources of advice and support, and/or more in-depth support. A creative outcomes-focused approach, exploring a broad range of ways in which needs are met, is valued. This feedback should be received quickly after the assessment.
  • A positive, courageous and exploratory approach. Carers value an approach which looks beyond the day to day coping mechanisms  to tease out problems, whilst recognising the skills and expertise of the carer. Most carers said they had no trouble taking about what they can do but have difficulty expressing where they are struggling or need help. Sensitivity and courage is needed on the part of professions to talk through issues such as whether the person is willing or able to continue caring and putting together emergency plans.
  • Clear communication. Clear communication is needed before, during and after the assessment so that carers feel they are clear about the purpose of the assessment, the choices available to them and the whole process. They also need to feel like they are treated as experts who bring a great deal of skill and knowledge to the caring role, and are able to make their own decisions.

You can see our report here. Perhaps none of this is a surprise, but it is a concern that carers often felt these things weren’t happening.

An assessment is the gateway to wider support, and can be the foundation of an ongoing dialogue so that carers know that they are valued as an individual, not just as a provider of care, and there is support there if they need it.

How do we make sure this happens? Well that’s the next project. We’ll keep you posted.

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Benefits, Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

Bring on 2013 – except if you’re on benefits

Benefits

I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas. 2012 was a year of many changes, both here at Carers Trust and in real life.

Policy-wise we had some highlights. Seeing a draft Care and Support Bill with carers not only mentioned, but forming a central plank of the whole Bill was a real boost. But all that is against a backdrop of increasing cuts which takes the wind out of the sails of any progress.

The cuts are coming from all sides, and I guess there’s no way of escaping. But it seems like carers and disabled people seem to be taking hit after hit after hit – way more than a fair share.

Food prices are up, gas and electricity prices up, transport and fuel prices up, and VAT at 20%. No-one escapes this. Few people in work are experiencing increased income in line with the cost of living, meaning most people are going through a real-terms cut, year after year.

Concerns over welfare benefits uprating bill

To top it all, the Government decide that people on benefits might as well live with this too. The welfare benefits uprating bill is in Parliament, and MPS voted in favour of taking it forward in the second reading debate last week.

We were told that disabled people would be protected – and Disability Living Allowance, Carers Allowance and people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance will continue to have these benefits increased in line with inflation. However, those in the ESA work ready group will have their rises limited to 1%, and other non-disability specific benefits such as Housing Benefit will also be limited to 1%.

These are cuts. Despite the promises, disabled people and carers have only been partially protected. You can find out how your MP voted here (scroll down to the second vote, Division No. 129 at 7.13 pm).

If you don’t like how they voted, you should write to them and say so. (NB – check your MP’s name in the AYES and the NOES list on the above link. If it appears in both, it means they effectively cancelled out their own vote – this is the traditional way of abstaining.)

Not all carers exempt from benefits cap

The other issue which will come into play is the cap on benefits. Inexplicably, carers – even those acknowledged as having entitlement for Carers Allowance, spending 35 plus hours a week in a caring role – will not be exempt. This means that what they receive each week, if they are not classed as living in the same household as an exempt person, will be limited.

This will have a massive impact on carers, particularly those in areas where housing costs are high, such as London. The only option for those carers may be to stop caring so much and work instead, or to move to another area – perhaps meaning they are far away from the person they care for. This makes no sense to anyone.

For people struggling to make ends meet already, these week on week reductions in income will have an extremely painful impact. Last October, at Conservative party conference George Osborne made it clear more cuts were coming so this won’t be the last.

Carers Trust will of course, be supporting the Hardest Hit campaign trying to ensure carers’ voices are heard, but it’s going to be tough. Welcome to 2013 folks.

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Benefits, Uncategorized | , , , | 5 Comments

Carers left out in the cold due to fuel poverty

Well, the clocks have gone back, many areas have had the first snowfall of the season (even if it only lasted a day) and the shops are filled with mince pies, Christmas cards and tinsel. Winter is definitely here to stay, but for carers the winter season with its shorter days and cold weather brings with it extra worries.

Carers often have to worry about fuel bills, and this increases as the temperature drops and the nights draw in. Whilst rising fuel costs are affecting everyone, carers and the people they care for can be at particular disadvantage due to their unique combination of circumstances. Fuel costs can really mount up when people are in the house all day and need to keep warm, and the choice to care for someone can often lead to financial and fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty is defined by spending more than 10% of household income on all fuel costs. As carers are often on low incomes, and need to keep homes warmer for more hours in the day, carers can find that they incur higher heating bills in order to keep the ill, frail and disabled people they care for comfortable.

Carers in rural and isolated communities can also be burdened with extra costs, as these areas are not on the mains gas supply and more expensive forms of heating such as solid fuel, oil or electric heating must be used. Winter fuel payments are available to many people on certain benefits, but there is little support for carers who do not qualify for these payments. Many people will care for elderly parents who continue to live in their own home – their parents may have the support of winter fuel payments, but adult children who have given up work to care for them will not.

However, all of the main energy companies offer special tariffs and services for ‘vulnerable customers’ – people who have a disability or a long term condition, or older people. This support can include bills and correspondence being sent directly to a person’s carer, free energy efficiency equipment such as low-energy light bulbs, or ensuring people who require powered medical or assistance equipment like stairlifts or ventilators will never be at risk of suddenly having their power cut off, even if they are struggling to pay the bills. If you care for someone who needs extra support, make sure their gas or electricity supplier is aware of their needs and that they are on the register of vulnerable customers.

Carers Trust understands the pressures of the winter season on carers only too well. We campaign for national recognition of unpaid carers and young carers’ issues and the help that will make life easier for them. In addition, the UK network of independently managed carers’ centres and schemes offers services to carers and young carers across the country. This help ranges from carrying out a Carer’s Assessment to giving energy efficiency advice, providing training, offering help with the benefits system, counselling and one to one support.

This blog was contributed by Heather Noller. Policy Officer in Scotland. Carers Trust is known as the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in Scotland.

November 19, 2012 Posted by | Benefits | , , | 1 Comment

Further cuts to welfare benefits are an outrage

Last week saw the Carers Trust policy team wending our weary way back from Birmingham at the close of Conservative Party conference, after 3 weeks of trying to get our message across to local and national politicians and party members.

As members of the Care and Support Alliance, Carers Trust has been lobbying hard to make sure that the new Care and Support Bill promotes the rights of carers, and the draft Bill does make significant progress towards this (although there are some issues with how it affects young carers).  There were positive noises from all three parties and their three main leaders on these issues – Andy Burnham for Labour as well as Norman Lamb for the Lib Dems  and Jeremy Hunt the new Secretary of State – that this is an important issue. They all said a great deal about the importance of integrating health and social care – the holy grail we’ve been pursuing for years  – although I’m not sure any of them came up with anything which makes me confident this will be achieved.  All three said we need a cross-party approach to the future funding of social care, whether this is through  what Andrew Dilnot proposed or otherwise.  It’s too important an issue to play politics with, and I hope they will follow through with what they say.

The three conferences had very different feels to them. The Liberal Democrats, in the howling gales and rain of blustery Brighton felt a bit lost and  despondent. Labour felt more positive and confident than they have done in the last couple of years – perhaps reflecting a feeling that they are beginning to find themselves again. The Conservative feel was quite strident and very much felt like they meant to push forward.

Conservative conference for me, and anything positive that was said about how we can get services to work better for carers, was totally overshadowed by George Osborne’s speech, where  he stated the Tories’ intention to cut further swathes  of the order of £10 billion off the benefits budget.  Cameron  backed him up, and tried to make us feel like he’s just  an ordinary bloke – “There is nothing complicated about me” he said, “ I believe in working hard, caring for my family and serving my country.”

Well other people believe that too, but sometimes they can’t  work because they’re caring, or because they’re disabled, or because there aren’t any jobs. For carers,  family and friends come first, often way before their own needs. Often they can’t work because they’re putting someone else first, saving the country billions in care costs. Carers are not, as George Osborne suggested, lying in bed doing nothing expecting others to pay their way for them. It’s an insult to suggest it. 

Carers can’t live on nothing. There’s only so far you can stretch a budget, and with costs increasing the Government are even talking about not increasing benefits in line with inflation. Many people are living right at the margins already.

This is no way to treat people. Further cuts to benefits for carers and disabled people are an outrage.  

Find out more about the hardest Hit campaign against welfare benefit cuts here: http://thehardesthit.wordpress.com/

October 17, 2012 Posted by | Benefits | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t attack young carers in the name of improving school attendance

So a recent rumour we have heard emanating from the bowels of Government is how they think we should tackle all a carer with her mumthose feckless people who can’t be bothered to make their children go to school. I don’t know, we taxpayers go to all that trouble to lay on full time education (which rightly none of us should take for granted) and still some people decide not to bother. And to fix this, what should we do? I know, let’s dock their Child Benefit if they don’t pay their fines. That’ll teach em.

This, which I heard about whilst lying in bed having my morning Radio 4 moment, pondering whether I could risk another swat of the snooze button, had me up, hopping mad and ranting at the cat. Whilst I dare say there are people who don’t prioritise their child’s education, the most cursory investigation would reveal that in a huge number of cases there is a more complex story to be heard, often one involving disadvantage, poor support and alienation.

For young carers often it’s not a case of not wanting to go to school. Often it’s a case of not being able to. If you thought your mum might be suicidal today, would you go to school? If the other kids called you names and said your dad was a nutter, would you go? And what if you knew you would get another hammering for not doing your maths homework because your autistic brother spent the whole night screaming? Would you go then? No? Me neither probably.

So many young carers go unnoticed and unsupported, by schools, by health services, by social services, by anyone. Of course school and education is a priority. Young carers deserve the chance to achieve as much as all other children, and many do. Some schools really do their best – having young carers policies and key staff responsible for raising awareness amongst pupils and staff. These schools make sure young carers can achieve, as well as making sure their caring role is reduced by liaising with other support services.

But I’ve met young carers unsupported for years, completely unnoticed by the many health and care professionals coming in and out of their house, and also those who tried to tell their school what was happening, but were given no support at all . Many have been left with the inescapable conclusion that nobody actually cared.

And what makes me most angry in all of this is the staggering inequity of it. If you’re a 2 parent family with an income of£60 or£ 70K or more, then maybe Child Benefit is not quite so critical. But if you’ve got three kids and you’re all struggling, say, on £30K or for many families much less, then it’s an absolutely vital source of income.

Children with one or more disabled parents have a 30% chance of being in relative poverty. So many young carers live in families with low incomes, where every penny is needed. The Eton millionaires inhabiting the Cabinet would do well to think about the implications of what they’re suggesting. If you’re rich, it will have no impact. If you’re poor, it could tip you over the edge. What kind of social justice is this?

Docking Child Benefit would be a blunt, savage, instrument which would impact disproportionately on some of the poorest, most disenfranchised people in our communities. If we want to improve school attendance, let’s start by understanding why kids aren’t going and doing something about that, not by a headline grabbing attack on some of our most vulnerable families.

Related links:

BBC story on “Dock truants’ child benefit, ministers urged

Child Poverty Fact Sheet

See what carers are saying about this on our forums

May 2, 2012 Posted by | Benefits, Education, Young carers | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You’re in for a surprise! (The results)

The results are in! In my last post, I asked people to answer five questions about social care in England because I had a hunch that what people thought would be different from reality. In fact, perception was the complete opposite of reality.

Q1. The correct answer is that 89.7% of people receiving social care support in England were quite, very or extremely satisfied with the services received. This option received the lowest votes, with most people thinking only 25.5% of social care users would be so satisfied.

Q2. Same trend. Correct answer was 53.4% of social care users rate their Quality of Life as good, very good or so good it could not be improved, but most people thought only 18.9% of social care users would say this.

Q3. The reality is that 57% of social care users feel that the way they were treated when receiving a service made them feel better about themselves. Most people thought only 29% of users would say this.

Q4. We got closer to reality with this one. The most popular answer was that there are 2.81m people who get social care support in England, but the reality is that only 1.57m people do. The correct answer got the second highest number of votes, along with those thought 4.2m got social care support, which is probably nearer the total number of people with social care needs.

Q5. This is the one stat that I think should shock people. Despite the universal acceptance that more people need social care support, the actual number of people getting support fell by 12% between 2008 and 2010. Over 70% of us thought the number had increased.

Now stats are interesting but it’s what you learn from them that gives them power. The answers to the first three questions tell me that most people who get social care support are glad they do and that their quality of lives are improved as a result. So providing social care support is a good thing. The answers to the last two questions tell me that there are more and more people in need who are not receiving this “good thing” – social care support.

Putting these two things together tells me quite simply that we are failing people. The Government has the opportunity to provide a “good thing” to people that would be valued and improve their quality of life. Government must grasp this opportunity, publish their proposals in March as promised and radically improve the social care support system so that more people get more support and use less of their savings to do so. Go on Government, do something good.

Note:

 Government postpones reform until 2025

Take care

Gordon

PS. We’re going to publish on www.carers.org in a few days the results for each council from the survey of social care users, and we will also do so for a survey of carers done in 2009/10. We will try to rank performance so you can see where is doing well and where could do better. I’ll put the link up in a comment to this post once they’re up.

December 14, 2011 Posted by | Benefits | , , | 10 Comments

Carer’s rights for free advice

Note: The following blog post is by guest blogger Carita Thomas who is a member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers.

This year’s Carer’s Rights Day theme is “Money Matters”. The aim of the day is to highlight the need for carers to get advice about claiming benefits, getting a carer’s assessment and accessing the support they need. Often having to give up work means carers can easily face money problems and fall into debt, piling on the stress they are already under.

Unfortunately the Government is driving a bill through parliament that would cut the free advice that you can get through a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), law centre or your local law firm, helping you resolve problems before they go too far. At the moment, if your income is low enough, you can see a specialist adviser funded by “legal aid” in lots of areas of law. They can help you access your rights, putting you on the same footing as anyone else who can afford a lawyer.

If the Government’s plans become law they would remove free advice for around 650,000 people per year. For some cases you would no longer get legal aid at all, like a problem with your benefits or a clinical negligence claim. The cuts are so harsh that advice services may not be able to survive, especially those law centres and CAB which have lost funding from other key sources like local government.

The government says its plans would save £350 million a year but there will be long term costs. Good quality advice early on can stop problems from getting worse and Citizens Advice has estimated that for every £1 of legal aid spent on housing, debt, employment and benefits advice the state saves between £2.34 and £8.80.filling in forms

It is estimated that 135,000 people per year will lose legal aid for benefits cases, of which 58% will be ill or disabled. Can many carers afford the cost of an advisor? When the average carer provides care worth £18,473 a year, this move does not seem justifiable.

However, the Bill is now in the House of Lords and Peers want changes. Baroness O’Loan spoke about what it will mean to lose free help with clinical negligence cases:

“The effect of the current proposals will be that yet another two-tier system will emerge. There will be those whose parents or carers who just cannot contemplate how to bring such proceedings and who will ultimately suffer the consequences in terms of reduced living standards.”

The bill will now go into committee stage where the peers will go over it line by line. You can still influence their decisions. Politicians need to hear from the public to understand what it would mean if you couldn’t get the advice you need. Contact Scope, who are collecting stories from disabled people who used legal aid to get the right benefits (). You can find other ideas for how you can help the campaign here: Save Legal Aid, Justice For All and Sound Off for Justice.

Related items:

Read a previous post by Gordon to see why legal aid can be important for carers

Government’s bill

December 2, 2011 Posted by | Benefits | 4 Comments