Region’s carers left in poverty by benefit changes

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Record numbers of carers are missing £100m in vital financial support in Yorkshire, campaigners warn today.

More than 32,000 people in the region are failing to claim the Carer’s Allowance because they lack of information and help which, combined with further changes to benefits and rapid rises in the cost of living, is increasing their risk of long-term financial hardship, the charity Carers UK said.

The organisation says that as much as £1.1bn remains unclaimed by 360,000 full-time carers across the UK. About £12.6m is going unclaimed in Bradford, with carers missing more than £11m in both Sheffield and Leeds.

The charity’s stark warning is echoed in a separate report today by the Local Government Ombudsman which is calling for a “cultural shift” in policy. It says greater support is needed for those caring for vulnerable children of relatives and friends who in some cases have been left bankrupt without financial or other local authority support.

Carers UK chief executive Helena Herklots said: “If you suddenly need to provide full-time care for an older, ill or disabled loved one your life can be turned upside-down. When their welfare is your top priority, looking after your own finances can easily fall by the wayside. If carers have been forced to give up work to care, just as the family face all the extra household and transport costs of caring, this can rapidly push carers into long-term debt and financial hardship.

“This financial pressure is all too often exacerbated by a lack of advice for carers, leading to long delays in them accessing essential support like Carer’s Allowance. It is vital that anyone caring for a loved one seeks advice to check they are getting all the financial help and practical support they are entitled to.”

Campaigner Annie Dransfield, of Farsley, Leeds, who cares for her 35-year-old disabled son as well as her elderly parents, and is also a trustee of the charity, said many carers were either not aware of their benefit entitlements, or not allowed to claim them because it would mean cared-for people having their allowances cut.

She criticised “counterproductive and contradictory” Government policy which “gives with one hand but takes away with the other”.

“In the 34 years that I have been caring, I have never yet come across a policy that is proactive, constructive and beneficial to carers,” she said. “There are thousands of hidden carers, a hidden workforce, who probably won’t know that they are entitled to, and we want to reach out to them.”

In the charity’s survey of more than 3,500 UK carers, 42 per cent said they had missed financial support, many for more than two years, because they lacked advice and information, .

Two in five were in debt, with one in seven owing more than £10,000. Almost half were cutting back on food and heating and one in five relied on overdrafts or credit cards to make ends meet.

The Carer’s Allowance is £59.75 a week for those caring for 35 hours a week or more.

Carers UK policy manager Steve McIntosh said many carers lost £700 a year because the effects of the “bedroom tax”, while the household benefit cap and the removal of council tax benefits also hit hard, adding: “With financial hardship and burn-out from caring, it’s not surprising many people reach breaking point and fall ill themselves, which costs the NHS and social care much more.”

Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said benefit changes would ensure carers on low incomes would get support as they could keep more money while moving into work. “The greater simplicity of Universal Credit will also help substantially increase the take-up of currently unclaimed benefits.”