Low benefits take-up is barrier to a better quality of life for carers

The third annual Carers’ Rights Day comes at a time when new
research shows that many carers are still missing out on the
financial support and services they are legally entitled to.

Charity Carers UK released figures last week which estimated that
£660m worth of carer’s allowance, their main benefit, goes
unclaimed every year and that 300,000 people across the UK are
missing out. Carers’ Rights Day, organised by Carer’s UK, aims to
raise awareness of the financial help and other support available
to carers.

Imelda Redmond, chief executive of Carers UK, explains that the
problem is caused by people failing to identify themselves as
carers and professionals’ ignorance. “There is still a low level of
awareness among professionals so there is no wonder that there is a
low level among the public,” she explains.

She says that although the amount of money given to carers’
services in recent years through the carers’ grant has increased
significantly, it “really isn’t enough”.

The low benefit take-up has compounded the problems of social
exclusion. “If carers don’t get the right support then their health
suffers and it leads to poverty and isolation,” says Redmond.

The charity would like to see regular information campaigns taking
place to ensure carers are aware of their entitlements and for
information to be made more widely available. To help tackle this,
carers can now claim their allowance online – not that all carers
have easy access to the internet.

Even for those who do claim carer’s allowance, at £43.15 a
week – £1.23 an hour for a 35-hour week – it does not go very
far. As a part of his “big conversation” with the public, the prime
minister admitted last week that “there is a gap in the system” for
carers who give up their jobs to care full-time and pledged to
improve their situation.

As well as not receiving financial benefits, many carers are not
being supported by local authorities according to a new study of
carers looking after someone with a mental illness by mental health
charity Rethink. The research found that only one in five carers
had had their needs assessed and only one in three had their
identified needs addressed.

“Some carers ask why they should go through all of that process of
having their needs assessed to be told that ‘yes, you need x, y and
z but we are unable to provide it’,” says Paul Corry, head of
policy and campaigns at Rethink, and one of the authors of the

Other findings included nine out of 10 carers reporting that their
caring role had a moderate to significant effect on their general
health. Depression, sleeplessness and worry were common among

The report finds that many carers become worn down by their role
before any help is offered.

“If you provide carers with information they soak it up and the
voluntary sector actually does that but very often statutory
services don’t give carers something as simple as a website address
or a telephone number,” says Corry.

The survey, which covered 1,400 mental health carers, also finds
that 62 per cent feel their views are not considered by

“Carers want to be included in the decision-making process and
those who are feel better in themselves,” says Corry.

He argues that it makes economic sense for carers to be well
supported, adding that, eventually, local authorities and health
services end up caring for two people because they failed to
provide sufficiently for one.

Currently, the only performance indicator in the comprehensive
performance assessment framework explicitly about carers measures
the number of assessments a council carries out. The government
announced last week that it intends to look at introducing more
indicators for carers next year, including one measuring the
services carers receive once assessed.

Sarah Pickup, director of adult care services at Hertfordshire
Council and carers lead for the Association of Directors of Social
Services, says that while helpful such a performance indicator
would be difficult to implement because it is often hard to
separate services that support carers and clients.

The government’s recent announcement that the carers’ grant will no
longer be ring-fenced from next April has also caused concern that
the money will be routed to other council services.

Pickup believes most local authorities recognise the importance of
providing carers’ services and will not redirect the money. Doing
so would be a “false economy” proving more costly in the long

She also says that the ending of ring-fencing should be seen as an
opportunity for social services to use the money more flexibly as
they will no longer be made to spend proportions of it on certain
services for carers, such as carers’ breaks, by government. “Yes,
there’s a risk but there’s an opportunity as well.”

Attention from the prime minister, new performance indicators and
improved publicity about rights and entitlements could see more
carers receiving better support.

If not, then the government is looking at creating a hefty bill and
is failing some of the most dedicated people in society. 

– Carers UK free guide to carers’ rights from 020 7237 5725 or www.carersonline.org.uk   

Under Pressure available from www.rethink.org  

‘Nobody has ever come round’

Mark* has been a full-time carer for his wife since 1990. She was
diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1984.

When Sarah* first became ill the couple began to have contact with
an occupational therapist and therefore Mark thought that the local
authority, Norfolk Council, would be aware of his situation but
received no contact from them in regards to his role as a carer.

He began to receive free help from Crossroads, an organisation that
provides a sitting service for carers and is funded by the council,
after being told about it by a friend. For five years he received
help for five hours a week enabling him to go out but then his
hours were reduced to three. Mark wrote to his MP and a social
worker came round almost immediately.

He now gets around 15 hours of help a week from social services and
Crossroads and is happy with the help, but remains bitter about the
past. “The first social worker we ever met was five years after I
had given up work and nine years after Sarah had MS diagnosed.”

Mark says that nobody has ever come round and carried out an
assessment on him using the proper assessment forms. He hurt his
leg in April prompting him to ask for extra help and was sent an
assessment form for the first time, which he filled in and
returned. However, he has received no confirmation from the council
that it received it and no information about its progress despite
ringing to try and find out.

Mark has been claiming carer’s allowance ever since he started
being a carer and says he found out about it himself. “The council
did not tell me about it and that amazes me.” Although he is aware
of his rights and entitlements he says that many others are not.
“From time to time I meet people who don’t know about anything,” he

Norfolk Council said it was not surprised Mark was unimpressed with
services in the past, but “we’re pleased he’s happy now”.

* Not their real names

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