Carers are under-valued and need 'protected from poverty' claim campaigners
In a joint open letter to politicians across Britain, more than 100, caring, anti-poverty, women’s rights and other national and local organisations said carers were on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus and facing “intolerable pressure”.
The letter comes as the Scottish Government today announced that 83,000 unpaid Scottish carers would received a one-off extra payment of £230.10 in June – if the move is approved by the Scottish Parliament.
However the organisations said that while the cash injection was welcome, the work of carers needed to be “properly valued” for the long term.
And one unpaid carer has spoken of the financial struggle to look after her disabled husband, saying the coronavirus crisis had “really brought home the fact that my husband and I are on our own… there’s no safety net.”
Lynn Williams, from Paisley, cares for her husband who has a complete spinal injury. She said: “Our costs have definitely increased because of the pandemic; even just little things like the fact that the house has to be warm for my husband, and now that we’re both home all day it means we’re paying to have it on constantly.
“The emotional side of caring can also be overwhelming. This crisis has really brought home the fact that my husband and I are on our own; there’s no safety net. I have no idea what happens to my husband if I get sick; none. I try not to think about it.”
She added: “We need to fully acknowledge that right now, hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers are the glue holding families and communities together. Many have lost what little support they had before the pandemic, so what we continue to do comes often at great personal cost.
“Many carers are teetering; they are traumatised by this situation. If we go back to how things were before, then we have learned nothing and we face a ticking health time bomb as carers were already on their knees.”
The Scottish Government today said that as part of the next emergency coronavirus legislation, it was proposing an additional £19.2 million investment in Carer’s Allowance Supplement in recognition of the additional pressure that carers are under.
It would see around 83,000 eligible carers automatically get an extra £230.10 through a special one-off Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement in June. This would mean carers would receive an additional £690.30 this year on top of their Carer’s Allowance and any other income.
Cabinet Secretary for Social Security Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “We introduced the Carer’s Allowance Supplement to recognise the important contribution unpaid carers play in our society. They provide vital support to family, friends and neighbours. Our collective efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus will see many of these carers experiencing additional pressures, particularly financial, right now.
“The payment will benefit carers who are on low incomes and already have some of the most intense caring roles, providing at least 35 hours unpaid care weekly to a disabled child or adult in receipt of higher level disability benefits.
“This additional payment would be an acknowledgement to carers that we know that they are doing even more right now, and we thank you.”
However Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, saidwhile the one-off cash boost for some carers would “provide some much-needed relief” more needed to be done.
“Many carers, particularly women who deliver most care, were already trapped in poverty before coronavirus and they are telling us that they’re facing rising bills for things like food and other essentials,” he said. “Carers have been undervalued for too long, and while this extra payment is a welcome step, we must properly value the work of all carers now, and for good.”
New research by Carers Scotland has revealed that 80 per cent of unpaid carers are having to spend more money during the outbreak, while the charity Gingerbread has cautioned that measures to limit the spread of the virus will put “huge pressure” on single parent families which were already twice as likely to be in poverty. The Women’s Budget Group has also warned that many low-paid women will not benefit from government support because they earn too little or are in insecure, temporary and part-time work.
The signatories to the open letter, including 35 Scottish organisations which range from Oxfam Scotland, Carers Scotland and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group to One Parent Families Scotland, the STUC and The Poverty Alliance, are calling for carers, both paid and unpaid, to receive increases to social security payments as well as a boost in cash given to social care providers.
They call for increases to key benefits, including Carer’s Allowance and Child Benefit, as well as immediate changes to Universal Credit, including removing the five week wait for an initial payment, the limit on the number of children families receive payment for, and the benefit cap.
The organisations are also calling for a significant cash injection into the social care system to enable providers across the UK to pay their workers a minimum of the Real Living Wage.
Meanwhile a YouGov poll for Oxfam showed that 62 per cent of Scots think that care work is not valued highly enough by the Scottish Government, 66 per cent believe care workers are paid too little and 63 per cent believe that those on low incomes who look after sick or disabled people should receive more financial support through increased social security payments;
The survey also found that 53 per cent believe governments should spend more on parents who work on very low incomes.
Mr Livingstone added: “The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of care, something all of us depends on at some point in our life. Carers are the glue that hold our society together, perhaps now more than ever before. Yet even before this pandemic, carers were more likely to live in poverty, that’s just not right. We must act, together, to fix it.
“Today we have one simple call: for politicians across Britain to act now to end carers’ poverty. Carers must be given the same level of support and respect they give to others; both now and for good.”
Fiona Collie, Policy & Public Affairs Manager at Carers Scotland, added: “Our recent research, “Caring Behind Closed Doors”, laid bare the huge impact the Coronavirus pandemic is having on unpaid carers.
“Carers told us they are facing increasing caring demands as well as overwhelming financial and emotional pressure. 80 per cent of carers in Scotland told us they are having to spend more money on food and household bills during the outbreak.
“Governments must recognise the huge efforts of Scotland’s 700,000 unpaid carers during this pandemic and act now to provide the support unpaid carers so desperately need.”
Anne Meikle, Convener of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, said: “As with all public health crises, the social, economic and health impacts of Covid-19 are deeply gendered. Caring responsibilities don’t fall equally; women make up the vast majority of care workers and unpaid carers, and now many mums will also be juggling looking after their children at home. It’s these women who now face being pushed further into poverty.
“It’s time these inequalities were addressed, and that carer’s contributions to our communities and economy are properly recognised and rewarded.”
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