Carers UK has reacted to a report from the Committee of Public Accounts (Supporting Carers to care, 42nd Report of Session 2008-09) which reveals that carers find it hard to access state benefits and employment support because of confusing and complex processes and poor communication from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Launching the report, Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of Committee, said: "The value of the service that these unpaid carers provide to society is not reflected in the quality of DWP's arrangements for providing them with financial and other support."
Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
"This is the second time in twelve months that a senior Committee of MPs has criticised the DWP's approach to carers. Last year the Work and Pensions Committee described carers' benefits as 'outdated' and urged an overhaul of the system. They also recommended an increase of up to £60 per week in carers' benefits, which is yet to happen. Now the Public Accounts Committee has found that those benefits aren't delivered effectively and carers are facing a multitude of problems in accessing the support that is rightly theirs.
"It is unacceptable that one in five carers find it difficult to claim benefits and face complex and impenetrable rules that make little common sense. Carers are also facing delays in having their applications processed. For someone who is looking after a newly disabled relative this can add additional stress in what is already a difficult time.
"The benefits system has to be overhauled for carers. They are saving the state a staggering £87 billion a year and feel frustrated that the benefits system does not meet their needs. Carer's Allowance is not fit for purpose and this report gives extra weight to the calls to overhaul the whole system. The Government has said that by 2018 no carer should be in financial hardship because of their caring role, but carers cannot wait until then: the time for action is now."
Key concerns raised by the Public Accounts Committee include:
The DWP does not know how many carers are eligible for Carer's Allowance, so it does not know how effectively it is reaching people who may be entitled to claim.
A fifth of carers who receive benefits have difficulties with the application process.
The interaction between carers' benefits and those of the person they care for is complex and discourages carers from applying.
Support for carers who wish to combine caring with paid work is not sufficiently tailored to their circumstances.
Jobcentre Plus targets mean that Personal Advisers are not given enough incentive to support carers to find part time work
Up to £13m Government funding earmarked for support for carers may be diverted to other areas, despite being part of one of the headline pledges in the National Carers Strategy.
For more information or an interview with a spokesperson contact Carers UK press office on: 020 7378 4937/ 020 7378 4936/ 07505 184262 (out of hours) Steve.firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
1. The Committee of Public Accounts report and press notice can be found at: http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_Committees/committee_of_public_accounts.cfm
2. Carer's Allowance is £53.10 per week, the lowest of the earnings replacement benefits. For example Jobseeker's Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance are £64:30 and the Basic State Pension is £95.25.
3. The Work and Pensions Select Committee published Valuing and supporting carers in August 2008. They recommended increasing Carer's Allowance to the level of the higher rate of Jobseeker's Allowance, which is currently £64.30 for those aged over 25. This is £11.20 per week more than Carer's Allowance. It also proposed a "Caring Costs Allowance" which recognises the costs that carers face, which should be set at between £25 and £50 per week. If the higher amount was used, this would be an increase of £62.20 per week for some carers. For more information and a link to the report visit: http://www.carersuk.org/Newsandcampaigns/News/1219937670
4. The National Carers Strategy was published in June 2008 and included a pledge of up to £38m to improve support for carers wishing to enter paid employment. The Committee's report reveals that the DWP has only committed £25m of this funding, and the remaining £13m may be diverted elsewhere as demand for other Jobcentre Plus services increases. The Strategy also pledged that by 2018 carers will not be in financial hardship because of their caring role. It committed £265m in funding over three years. For more information about the Strategy visit: http://www.carersuk.org/Newsandcampaigns/NationalCarersStrategy