So, today is Carers’ Rights Day, the day when we celebrate family carers and tell them what they are worth..
(Fifty-nine pounds odd a week, if they earn less than £100, that’s what. Whoopee)
I am offended by the whole concept of a Carers Rights Day – a day when well-paid professionals and media pundits gather together to pat each other on the backs and moo “Ooooo – we care: we reeeelly care for your plight, pooooor yooo. ” The brutal truth is that they don’t. Society doesn’t. Successive governments don’t. And when I once asked Unison strikers why they were not striking for family carers they memorably replied “Because you don’t work!” (That is, because we Family Carers don’t have paid hours, overtime, sick pay, holiday pay etc etc we don’t work. It’s iniquitous)
Carers wouldn’t need a Carers Rights Day if the state had ever given Family Carers any meaningful rights. And the right to be accepted as a worker rather than patronised as a rather dim and unworldly saint comes top of the list.
If carers were seen as the workers they are, the real cost of that care: the working hours, the loss of careers, the impact of poverty and poor health, the absence of employment-related pensions – all these might be factored into the support offered to them. As it is, people suggest they may like a session of aromatherapy!
In this country the welfare state has traditionally relied on the love carers feel for those they care for to save the state the real cost of that care. Yet carers suffer from blighted careers, poverty, poor health (fulltime carers are twice as likely to be in bad health than their peers) and can look forward to little more than an impoverished old age. Thousands of people like myself have worked unsupported 168 hour weeks for years – in my case for the whole of this millennium. You know, its possible we might just get worn out!
This is not only sad and bad, it is expensive. How much does it cost to replace 24/7 specialised, knowledgeable care? Five years ago when the cost of home care was estimated it varied between £18 and £27 per hour depending on whether it was daytime, evening or weekend. Goodness knows what it is in 2013.
So what’s the answer? Once again – to the sound of one hand clapping – I’m suggesting the following serious revision of how carers are supported and viewed. Its not unduly expensive or ambitious. Just common sense :
- Carers Allowance should be viewed as a wage rather than a benefit, awarded to all full-time carers (exactly as DLA as awarded to those who are eligible) Currently family carers can claim £59 odd a week -if they don’t earn more than £100: meaning carers are expected to live and further their careers on £8368 a year. If, of course you earn a little more than £100 a week, you get no carers allowance at all. These folks have hearts like greasy bullets, don’t they?
- The state must further relax rules on ‘other employment’ to allow carers the ‘luxury’ of being able to work, and have some non-caring life outside their responsibilities.
- The state should pay into the equivalent of an occupational pension for carers to accurately reflect (ok at minimum wage) the real hours spent caring. This could be established by reference to the cared for’s DLA returns and would give carers the prospect of a securer old age with recognition of what can be decades of real – if unpaid work.
- When a family carer is bereaved they are simultaneously made redundant. The state should set up obust and appropriate training to provide carers for genuine, satisfying jobs when their caring roles (often sadly) end. This isn’t a luxury – it is a reward for all the unpaid work they have done without prospect of career advancement.