Everyone knows social care desperately needs to change but there is little agreement of how. It comes as no surprise then that the Government’s Green Paper on the matter is several months late. Could informal carers, so neglected in today’s public debate about social care, offer a route out of this political impasse?
In new research published today, Demos finds informal carers are making an enormous societal contribution, saving the UK an estimated £139bn a year. It is no exaggeration to say that our entire formal health and social care systems would collapse tomorrow without them.
But too many carers feel their invaluable work goes unrecognised. Carers we spoke to in Leeds and London were struggling and finding it hard to cope. Caring was affecting their finances, pushing many of them towards poverty. It was harming their relationships and affecting their health and wellbeing. Worst of all, society appeared to be doing almost nothing about this.
That’s why we are calling on the Government to introduce a bold new policy agenda for carers. At its centre should be a Universal Carer’s Income, an unconditional weekly payment to all full-time carers paid at the same rate as Jobseeker’s Allowance. This would replace Carer’s Allowance – an outdated, overly-bureaucratic benefit, unavailable to many carers in work. A Universal Carer’s Income would extend financial support to around 2 million more carers and give all current recipients of Carer’s Allowance an estimated pay rise of £442 a year.
Ten days of statutory paid carer’s leave would provide, in the words of one carer we spoke to, a “get out of jail free card” when they most need it. For some carers a longer time away from the workplace may be required and access to extended paid care leave, operated on a similar basis to maternity pay, would be a lifeline for many carers. A Carer’s Working Credit – a wage top-up to carers going down to part-time hours, paid for by a wage deduction on return to full-time working – would give carers the flexibility and financial security we know so many of them need.
Our research, though focused on supporting the carer, has important implications for social care more broadly. We uncovered among carers a stark hostility towards tax rises as a vehicle for increased spending on formal care – and this amongst those who we might reasonably expect to benefit from it.
This informed a thorough scepticism about an all-encompassing state solution on social care, perhaps because caring is deeply personal and different in kind to the provision of more anonymous public services. But the expansion of market-led private provision is also problematic – carers we spoke to were just as wary of private providers as they were of an overbearing Leviathan interfering in their lives.
Our country’s carers could form the foundations of a social care solution based on family, friends and community. But this can only happen by forging a radical new settlement between carers and the state, giving them the support and recognition they desperately need and deserve.