UK’s six million unpaid carers failed by ‘complex’ benefits system
A committee of MPs has said there need to be changes to the benefits system so that carers to be referred quickly to the services they need.
There are an estimated six million unpaid carers in the United Kingdom looking after family or friends who are sick or disabled, the Public Accounts Committee said in its report Supporting Carers to Care.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) provides two main forms of support to carers—paying carers’ benefits and providing employment support—at an estimated cost of up to £2 billion a year.
However, the committee reported that benefits for carers are unnecessarily complex and cause confusion.
About a fifth of carers who receive benefits have difficulties with some aspect of the application process.
These difficulties include understanding the information provided by DWP and also what information they are required to provide.
The system of ‘underlying entitlement’ means some carers have to apply for Carer’s Allowance, even though they are not eligible for it, in order to receive ‘top-up’ payments of Carer’s Premium and Additional Amounts.
Complexity is also caused by the interaction of carer’s benefits with benefits received by the person for whom they care – receipt of carer’s benefit can reduce the cared for person’s benefits.
The committee said DWP’s communications with customers can be lengthy and difficult to understand and Jobcentre Plus’ target regime does not provide sufficient incentive for Personal Advisers to help customers find part-time work.
“Carers’ needs would often be met if the needs of the person being cared for were provided for,” the committee concluded.
“This outcome requires effective co-ordination of services between DWP and other organisations in central and local government, as well as the voluntary and community sector.
“Improving relationships at a local level would make it easier for carers to be referred quickly to the services they need.
At November 2008, 900,000 carers met the entitlement rules and the value of the social care they provided has been estimated by the National Audit Office at £23 billion a year.
Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, said:
“Millions of people devote a large part of their time, often for many years, to caring for family or friends who are ill or disabled.
“But 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.”