The carers watchdog has urged the government to set a timetable for reforming carers benefits to address the financial hardships facing the group.
In its first annual report, the Standing Commission on Carers, which was formed in December 2007, said that the recession has had a significant effect on carers who were already under financial strain.
The Department for Work and Pensions has promised to review carers benefits but has not set out a timetable for doing so, despite widespread concern that current provision is inadequate.
Call for benefits overhaul
In a report last year, the work and pensions select committee called for the current system – based around the carer’s allowance, now worth £53.10 a week – to be replaced by a more generous system. This would involve an allowance for all carers plus a benefit for those who are unemployed or earning a modest amount.
The commission’s report said it would seek further discussions with the DWP “and press for a timetable for reform to be established”.
Charity Carers UK, which has campaigned for the review to be timetabled, welcomed the recommendation. Chief executive Imelda Redmond said that during the consultation on the 2008 carers strategy, “people were given a lot of options [on benefit reform] and there has been absolutely no action since”.
‘Commission must keep up pressure’
Redmond added that it was now up to the commission to ensure the recommendation is realised. “I think the job for the commission is that the DWP do not get away with it and the pressure is kept up on them,” she said.
The commission called on government to be more proactive in the way carers benefits were marketed to encourage all carers to take up the support.
It also joined charities in raising concerns about the apparent failure of primary care trusts to use all of the £50m allocated to them to fund short breaks for carers in 2009-10, as a key part of the carers strategy.
PCTs not spending money on carers
A Freedom of Information request made by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care found that as much as four-fifths of this money was not being spent as desired.
The commission’s report said that carers should be given a higher priority in the NHS operating framework, which sets priorities, from 2011-12 onwards to ensure PCTs provided sufficient funding for carers’ services.