On 6 May a delegation of MPs met Prime Minister Gordon Brown to urge him to make improvements to carers’ benefits. Carers UK also attended the meeting and presented carers’ concerns directly to the Prime Minister.
The meeting came about as a result of a parliamentary question asked by Hywel Francis MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Carers. He asked the Prime Minister to meet with carers’ organisations and the All Party Group to discuss ways of improving carers’ benefits. He was accompanied by a group of MPs from all the major parties and Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK.
Issues raised by the MPs included the need to overhaul carers’ benefits, the disincentives caused by the earnings limit for Carer’s Allowance which means that carers lose their entire benefit if they earn more than £95 per week, and the overlapping benefit rule which means that people receiving a State Pension cannot also receive Carer’s Allowance. They also asked whether more could be done to support those carers who wish to study.
The MPs stressed that carers need to see change now and that they need to see a timetable for action.
A further issue raised was the £150 million over two years which Primary Care Trusts have received to provide breaks for carers. MPs are concerned that this money may not be reaching carers and asked about the monitoring arrangements which will be put in place.
The Prime Minister has taken a strong interest in carers since taking office in 2007. He hosted a reception for carers at 10 Downing Street, and attended a consultation event to hear what carers wanted to be included in the National Carers Strategy, which was published in June 2008. The Strategy included £265 million of new funding, mainly for more breaks for carers, but unfortunately did not address the financial hardship faced by many carers.
The government has accepted that Carer’s Allowance is not fit for purpose, and has set out its intention to put in place measures by 2018 so that carers will not be forced into financial hardship by their caring role. However despite the promise of a review, nothing has been forthcoming. Last year an influential committee of MPs, the Work and Pensions Select Committee, called on government to make urgent improvements to carers’ benefits.
Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Carers, said:
“It was a very productive and constructive meeting. The Prime Minister listened carefully to what the MPs and Carers UK had to say. We discussed the problems with Carer’s Allowance, the need for more breaks for carers and better support for working carers. He promised to follow up the issues with the relevant Ministers and we look forward to an early response from him.”
Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy & Public Affairs at Carers UK, added:
“The benefits system has to be overhauled for carers. They are saving the state a staggering £87 billion a year yet many are living in poverty and can’t even afford to heat their home or pay bills. Government has recognised that Carer's Allowance is not fit for purpose but carers cannot wait 10 years for Government to deliver. The time for action is now.”