Did they really say that?

Typically at this time of year, not much is happening policy-wise with Parliament in recess. This seems even more the case this year as everyone seems to have vacated London for the duration.

With this time to take stock I’ve been thinking about the top things politicians have said to me in the last two years whilst I’ve worked here which have left me aghast.  We think we’ve got the message across, and then I’m left with my mouth hanging open in a meeting  thinking – “Did they really say that?”

Here are my top five jaw droppers .  You can rest assured, all of these got suitably robust responses, if appropriately polite for the circumstances.

1.       Carers have a duty to look after their relatives. If they don’t want to do it, that’s just tough.

I’m afraid I had to take issue. Whilst many carers may well feel it’s their duty,  actually we  are free individuals who should be able to make our own choices. No-one is saying the state should interfere in families’ business, but it should provide support to help families achieve the best outcomes for all. Although sadly many people do feel trapped in a caring role, this isn’t how it should be.

2.       Young carers, aren’t they just children who do some chores?

This particular meeting  started off inauspiciously with this perplexing statement, and ended up with us conducting  a hasty carer awareness  session, which resulted in the MP actually understanding something about the issue and speaking positively about young carers later in the House of Commons. So despite the difficult start, a real result! Nice to know that some days we make a difference.

3.       People with disabilities don’t need DLA unless they’re the most severely disabled  people.

Somehow there’s an idea amongst some MPs that we should spend all the benefits money on the people with the most severe levels of need. The thing is, that living with a  disability  – pretty much any disability – costs more.  If we don’t spend a bit of money on people with moderate levels of need, they get worse and worse , and their lives get more and more miserable until they end up being the people in most need.  We all know about the need for prevention  and that this saves money in the long run- why can’t they see it?

4.       Carers don’t actually live on Carers Allowance.

If I had a sticky bun for every time someone in a decision making role told me that no-one actually lives on Carers Allowance, like it’s just a bit of pin money, then I could open a bakers shop. So again and again we say – Carers Allowance may not be a king’s ransom but it’s desperately needed income which helps  families survive.  We need Carers Allowance to work better for carers and to actually be a decent amount of money. That’s a key thing we need to get the Government to sort out, once and for all.

5.       We don’t actually need to put money into supporting carers – they’d do it anyway.

This is perhaps the saddest things I hear – and it’s hard because I know from the people I meet that thousands of carers do go on, year after year, supporting people even though their own health deteriorates to the point of collapse. The thought that it’s not worth putting a bit of money in to help people care for longer, with a bit of quality  of life for themselves, just makes my blood boil.

So, those are my jaw droppers – what are yours?  Share the worst ones!


August 16, 2012 Posted by | Carer's Allowance, Carers Strategy, Law, Party Conferences, Social Care, Young carers | , , | 7 Comments

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

Carers Allowance – in the dock

My dentist recently wrote to me advising I had not booked an appointment for some time. I then could not tell my mortgage provider who my building and contents insurer was, because I couldn’t find the policy document.

I am rather disorganised. Which is why I was attracted to Helen’s business proposal in the final programme of The Apprentice last Sunday. Her business would offer concierge /secretary type services for people – such as organising dentist appointments and storing information of who your insurer is.

filling in formsThis would be a dream for me, but can you imagine how helpful this would be for carers who can be responsible for all of the affairs of the person they are caring for, on top of everything else they are dealing with?

Carers are often lost amidst a myriad of social care, health and welfare systems as they try to figure out how best to get support for the person they care for. It is no surprise that something might slip through the net.

For some carers, what slipped was that some years after first receiving Carer’s Allowance, they did not tell the Carer’s Allowance Unit that they had begun to earn over £100 p/w which means they are no longer eligible for Carer’s Allowance.

In a recent discussion on our website forums, 16 carers advised that they were prosecuted by the Department of Work and Pensions for this error. Some of them had disclosed the income to the Tax Credits office but had not realised that they also had to tell the Carer’s Allowance Unit.

My dentist understood and found time for me; my mortgage provider laughed and said my insurance broker could tell me. The DWP took carers to court. In all of these cases, carers said they admitted their mistake and had offered or even started repayments yet DWP still pressed prosecution. 

The effects were carers lived for months in fear of jail and what would happen to the person they were caring for. And fearing the loss of their jobs working in schools or with vulnerable adults. Or wondering where they could find the money to pay for a lawyer. One carer is now so scared that she refuses to claim Carer’s Allowance even though she is eligible, in case she makes another mistake and goes through the nightmare again.

All carers who went to court were found not guilty, and others had their cases dropped by the DWP but only after many months of fear. However, two carers  are still being taken to court despite admitting their mistakes and starting repayments.  

What has happened to these carers over the past year is horrifying. The lack of understanding shown is astounding and deeply saddening. It’s a shame when your own Government shows a fraction of the understanding that dentists and banks show.

Take care,


July 22, 2011 Posted by | Benefits, Carer's Allowance | , , , | 18 Comments

Government Does Good by Not Scrapping Carer’s Allowance

A couple of weeks ago, the Government asked to meet us to discuss Carer’s Allowance and whether it should be Carer and caree laughingmerged with the proposed Universal Credit or not. We said not.

If you care for somebody for more than 35 hours p/w and that person receives the mid/high rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, then you can get the Carer’s Allowance of £53.90 p/w. However, you don’t get it if you receive another higher benefit such as Income Support or State Pension, or are in education or training for more than 20 hours p/w.

Considering this, it’s no surprise that many carers strongly believe that Carer’s Allowance is not enough and too many carers can’t get it.

The Government wants to merge numerous benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance into one single benefit called Universal Credit to simplify the system. However, there are two reasons why carers opposed moving Carer’s Allowance into Universal Credit.

The recognition that receiving a benefit specific to carers is important to them. It shows that the Government understands that they are not like other people receiving benefits – they are actually having to make a valuable contribution to qualify for that benefit. They want to know that the Government appreciates this.

Also Universal Credit will be a means tested benefit that will take into account savings and earnings of others in the household. Carer’s Allowance is not means tested. A change would have meant that carers could still be caring for more than 35 hours p/w but would have received a Universal Credit amount even lower than £53.90 because of savings they may have (which may be needed to pay for care).

The Government has an understandable aim of targeting benefits at those with most financial need, but withdrawing Carer’s Allowance from some would only make carers feel even more unappreciated and taken advantage of. The health and social care system is terrible at recognising carers and for many carers Carer’s Allowance is the only recognition they receive for what they do.

Taking Carer’s Allowance away from those who give so much would have been simply wrong. This is the message we gave Government. We are glad they listened.


February 17, 2011 Posted by | Benefits, Carer's Allowance, Carers Strategy, Conservatives, David Cameron, Liberal Democrats | , , , , , | 23 Comments