Unpaid carers are on the frontline of the social care crisis and need more supportby Ben Glover / December 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
Our rapidly ageing society represents the biggest demographic change in the UK since the Industrial Revolution, a public policy challenge that can no longer be ignored. Almost one in seven older people are today living with an unmet care need, a figure that looks set to only grow. Maintaining what is already a threadbare social care system will require huge sums of money and that’s just to stand still. The cost of social care provision is expected to rise by around £18bn by 2033-34. In new research published by Demos we found that Britain’s unpaid carers are at the care crisis frontline, saving the taxpayer an amount equivalent to total NHS spending. Without them, our entire formal health and social care systems would collapse. Yet too many carers feel their invaluable work goes unrecognised. We spoke to many carers who were struggling and finding it hard to cope. Caring was affecting their finances, often pushing them towards poverty. It was harming their relationships and affecting their health and wellbeing. Worst of all, the government appears to be doing almost nothing about this. That’s why we are calling for a radical new settlement between carers and the state. At its centre should be a Universal Carer’s Income, an unconditional weekly payment to all full-time carers. This would extend financial support to around two million more carers and replace Carer’s Allowance, an outdated, overly-bureaucratic benefit, unavailable to many carers in full or part-time work. Paying this at the same rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance would end the longstanding injustice of carers receiving one of the least generous income-replacement benefits and give a £442 annual pay rise to those already in receipt of Carer’s Allowance. Carers should also enjoy ten days’ statutory paid leave. This would offer, in the words of one we spoke to, a “get out of jail free card” when they most need it. More time away from the workplace may be required in certain circumstances and access to extended paid care leave, operated on a similar basis to maternity pay, would be a lifeline for many carers. Along with improving the wellbeing of carers, these policies could help provide an answer to Britain’s social care crisis. By better supporting family members and friends to look after their loved ones, we can build a more comprehensive social care system without turning to the state or the market—institutions we found little support for in our research. Speaking to carers we uncovered a sharp hostility towards tax rises to fund a greater level of state-provided social care—perhaps surprising when we might normally expect this group to benefit significantly from this policy. However, this neglects the fact that carers often wish to care for their loved ones themselves. This may be because caring is a deeply personal act, different in kind to other public services that we generally welcome the state providing. When in need of an operation we are happy to outsource this to the best available expert. Our relationship with a surgeon will be brief and the only necessary qualification is technical expertise. Caring couldn’t be more different. To care well for someone is to understand who they are as a person and to develop a long-term, meaningful relationship with them. Success is likely to be less contingent upon professional qualification, more upon interpersonal bonds. These attributes are more likely to be held, we feel, by family, friends or neighbours than an arm of the state. In light of this, hostility amongst carers towards state provision of social care seems much less surprising. But this is not to say that there was a clamour for a private-sector led, market provider—quite the opposite. Carers we spoke to were just as wary of private providers as they were of an overbearing Leviathan interfering in their lives. There was a strong sense that the people closest to us are the best to care for us, not a private company operating on a profit motive. In its debate on social care Britain has forgotten that, in the words of Karl Polanyi, “human relationships are the reality of society.” A social care system based on family, friends and community, not the state or market, would begin to put that right. But this can only be achieved if we deliver a radical new settlement for carers which gives them the support they deserve.