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Carers need more, not less, support

That many carers are in debt and rely on overdrafts or credit cards to make ends meet may seem unsurprising.

"Join the club", many people might conclude. But there are particular reasons why this is the case for many carers. A survey of Scots who care for an elderly, sick or disabled friend or relative has found that 47% face debts as a direct result of caring.

In fact, the figures show many carers are on the breadline, for a range of reasons. It is hard to combine work with even part-time care and more than 170,000 carers in Scotland have given up work as a result. Costs are higher. Increased expenses unfamiliar to people with a caring role can include self-funded home adaptations, specialist foods and higher heating and laundry bills. The fact 59% of carers say they are in fuel poverty, spending more than they can afford on power and heating, is likely to be connected.

Some might feel it is not a government's job to fund carers. In past generations, people looked after friends and relatives, after all, and many suffered hardship as a result. But these are different times and society is more fragmented. Many households are dependent on two wages to get by in comfort. It is not straightforward in many cases for people to give up work for a caring role.

Meanwhile, the cost saved by government as a result of the efforts of Scotland's 660,000 carers is enormous. Councils and governments save huge sums in residential care and community support costs. The Westminster and Scottish Government should invest more to back their dedication.

The case is laid bare by this latest report and earlier ones that have shown 96% of carers say their health has suffered as a result of their role.

But investment is not on offer. Instead of help, carers are seeing reductions in support. A blizzard of threats and cuts is making the situation unsustainable for many families, support charities say. Changes to the Employment and Support Allowance for disabled people, cuts to council tax benefit, risking fuel and food bills and depleted savings are among the problems faced by carers.

The carers' allowance is a welcome policy, but set low, at less than £60, and only for those who care for 35 hours a week or more. This is £1.67 an hour, or much less depending on the extent of a carer's duties. Absurdly, it is treated as income when set against a benefit claim and withdrawn if someone earns more than £100 a week, leaving carers feeling harshly treated. The feeling among carers is that theirs is a relatively easy plight for governments to ignore. A sheer lack of time and exhaustion make carers slow to campaign and the isolation that can be imposed by caring does not help. Carers have little leverage.

Although many at some point have thought about walking away and leaving social services to take over, few or none would actually do so and governments know this full well.

The Scottish Government has a good record on carers and its carers strategy does have the potential to help; as does its commitment to end the bedroom tax. But today's report has messages for parliamentarians at Westminster and at Holyrood and its central story, of families pushed to breaking point, must not be ignored.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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