Sebastian Fischer: Show unpaid carers the respect they deserve

Cash benefits must reflect the value of their work, insists Sebastian Fischer

FOR the second time in a year, a Westminster government committee has criticised the treatment of unpaid family carers in the UK.

Last week, the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts recognised that access to carer benefits is too complicated. Official written guidance and communications is often "hard to understand" or "downright incomprehensible".

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Pensioners who are entitled to a Carers' Premium first have to apply for Carer's Allowance, even though their entitlement ends when they reach state pension age. This would be like me, as a pedestrian who wants a monthly bus pass, first having to apply for a Residents' Car Permit, which I'm not entitled to because I don't have a car.

Clearly, it's high time to expose bureaucracy gone mad, but behind this ridiculous system are two very serious issues. Firstly, such practices constitute 'institutionalised discrimination' because the system is designed in such a way that many people can't possibly understand or navigate it.

Secondly, the remit of the Committee of Public Accounts is to scrutinise the existing system and make suggestions on how it should work better.

But the real problem with carer benefits is that they are 'outdated' and require a complete overhaul – not just a view I share with many carers, but the official verdict of last year's Work and Pensions Select Committee. They also recommended an increase of up to 60 per week in carers' benefits, which is yet to happen.

Considering that the value of care provided, without pay, by families and friends every year is estimated at 87 billion for the UK (7.8bn in Scotland), carers deserve better than paltry benefits.

Caring for elderly parents, children with special needs, or friends or relatives with long term conditions, is similar to the responsibilities and costs associated with bringing up a child. For that, parents are entitled to universal, non-means tested, support – child benefit.

Sebastian Fischer is chief executive of VOCAL, Voice of Carers Across Lothian