Carers: Robbed of Choices, Careers and Cash
By Bernadette Horton
It's Carers Week. A chance for Carers Organisations to highlight once again the crippling impact caring has on individuals, the clamour to keep shouting at the government to do something to help carers across a myriad of problems from basic recognition, to job choice, to the insult of the frozen £62.10pw. This is the pittance Carers receive in Carers Allowance from a cold,distinctly uncaring Tory government. A government that insists Carers provide 35 hours per week care for way below the minimum wage. Illegal elsewhere, but promoted by the Tories!
My own situation as a Carer highlights how circumstance can rob you overnight of the basic of rights, where giving birth to a disabled child can take you from full time work on decent pay, to the scandal that is Carers Allowance. When the youngest of my sons was born with autism in 1999, this was before we had decent child care arrangements under tax credits. But subsidised and free childcare mean absolutely nothing when your child is disabled. Why would a childminder who can take 6 able bodied children under their care currently, choose to have 1 disabled child who needs their constant attention? It simply isn't “good business” to them and who can blame them? I certainly don't! Governments on all sides of the political spectrum are very good at publically denouncing disability discrimination but are absolutely hopeless at putting into place schemes that allow Carers a choice of being able to even work part time. Getting a decent childminder/nursery that has expert knowledge on dealing with your child's particular disability is a complete nightmare for parents who are Carers. It's a choice currently we simply don't have.
In fact government legislation actually hampers Carers who would like to combine caring with a part time job! You can only work to a maximum income ceiling of £110pw before your entire Carers allowance is stopped. Some incentive! The laws currently, actively seek to punish Carers and trap us into a lifetime of poverty. Employment laws and employers aren't keen to employ Carers who may have to rush off in an emergency situation to the person they care for either.
The feeling I had when my son was diagnosed with autism wasn't just that of worrying what his life would be like. It then dawned on me, that to give this child every available chance in life, it would mean the almost slow death of mine. It would mean being robbed of job choice immediately, having only my husbands one wage coming in, and as he was my youngest child, less time to spend with my older children. At the beginning it felt like a curtain coming down on my life and involved endless days of form filling, appointments with experts, fighting the education system and with my mouth standing up constantly for my sons rights when I thought they were being eroded too. Endless, dreary, constant fighting against different sections of our health and education systems. It shouldn't be like this and as my son has grown up my thoughts are often with those who accept what the system gives you, as they are unable or less knowledgeable, or simply don't want to be worn down by constantly fighting the system.
Our Tory government has now frozen Carers Allowance until 2020 at £62.10pw for a compulsory 35 hour caring week. It equates to £1.77 roughly an hour. Taken away entirely if a Carer dares to earn £110.01. It actually makes you feel worthless. The unemployed get more at £73pw. So not only are Carers tucked away in their homes, unseen, unheard and virtually voiceless, the government makes us worthless too. It's a kick in the teeth and one that a future Labour government has a complete duty to change. I know it is a subject that both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell will be seeking to tackle in policy change for 2020 as both know the absolute disgrace the system is serving up to Carers currently. My hope actually lies in the Shadow DWP where both Owen Smith and the new MP, Nick Thomas-Symonds have a complete grasp of the Carers plight and will be wanting significant change to be made. There is also talk within Labour of a basic citizens income which would be music to the ears of Carers and actually lift many of us out of the poverty trap. We eagerly watch what John McDonnell has to say on the issue.
But going back to choices, it's not only the ability to work that is taken from Carers. Politicians forget the ability to get out of the house when you want to, do the shopping without thinking of the logistics for doing it, having a holiday; these are all things where Carers have no or little choice, With social services funding from Tory Westminster being slashed, respite care is being cut, which is a lifeline for drained, weary Carers. My very own Tory/Inde/Plaid dominated county council Denbighshire, decided to start charging parents of disabled children £25 to actually access respite care. A despicable Tory led initiative that was described to me as saying “Parents receive Disability Living Allowance for their disabled child, so they should use this for the charge.” All pushed through by local Tory councillors with no idea of the impact on families and no moral compass to understand this was yet another attack on disabled people and their families. If it doesn't touch their lives then it doesn't matter about the rest of us is their motto.
Governments of any political party have an enormous amount of work to do for Carers to even try to level the playing field slightly. Scotland should be congratulated it has raised Carers Allowance to the same rate as Jobseeker's Allowance: a good start is my view with more to be done. The social security system needs a complete rethink to address Carers and for Carers to be prioritised and not bottom of some special advisor focus group as we were in the 2015 General Election: not worthy of any showpiece political policy. I do think though that Jeremy Corbyn will have a bolder and more empathic approach. He understands Carers needs and will seek to entrust the Shadow DWP to come up with perhaps an holistic package of support for Carers, as he has the right people in position to have an emboldened view.
My hopes and the hopes of 11 million Carers and the disabled people we care for rest with the Labour Party. Cameron and his henchmen at the DWP which have included one of the most hated politicians of our times Iain Duncan-Smith, and now his equally loathsome successor Stephen Crabbe have thrown Carers and the disabled to the wolves in what for many is a circle and lifetime in a poverty trap. We look to 2020 for urgent change and for a compassionate Labour government under Corbyn to make the changes Carers urgently need.