A DEDICATED COALITION of 94 organisations has come together in an effort to lessen the financial hardship experienced by millions of unpaid carers in England, and parallel concerns in other parts of the UK.

The Carer Poverty Coalition, which includes a mixture of charities and local organisations, aims to build awareness of carer poverty and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on unpaid carers across the UK, and improve the limited financial support available to them. Crucially, the coalition will also look at what carers need to support them to continue with paid work alongside their caring role for as long as possible.

The group is being led by Carers UK, a national charity supporting and representing those with an unpaid caring responsibility for someone who has a disability, illness, mental health condition or who needs extra help as they grow older.

Carers UK research released last year revealed that one in four carers (25 per cent) was cutting back on food or heating to make ends meet during the cost-of-living crisis. This rose  to 35 per cent of those receiving Carer’s Allowance – the main benefit of £69.70 a week for those caring 35 hours or more each week.

A significant number of carers were also using food banks – eight per cent of those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance. New data suggests that close to one million people in England are claiming Carer’s Allowance.

The coalition is campaigning to see a benefits system that better supports people providing high amounts of unpaid care, along with changes to help carers stay in paid work for longer while caring. A small steering group of current and recent former unpaid carers is providing insight and comments on major policies and plans.

On behalf of the Carer Poverty Coalition, Helen Walker of Carers UK said: “Everyday across the UK the work of unpaid carers helps hold society together – however, providing care to family and friends limits their ability to earn a full income and adds extra costs and strain that they would not otherwise have.

“Too often, due to a lack of recognition and support, unpaid carers end up falling into poverty or find themselves in precarious financial positions as a direct result of their caring role.

“As a coalition, we believe carers deserve better. There is a clear moral as well as economic argument for supporting unpaid carers to live on a decent income and for supporting those able to continue with paid work whilst caring to stay in work. We hope [the UK] Government and policy makers will see this too.”

Abby Jitendra, Principal Policy Adviser at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Caring for a family member or a loved one shouldn’t leave you locked in poverty, but at the moment far too many of the over 4 million unpaid carers in the UK are being left without the support they need. It’s not right that 29 per cent of unpaid carers are living in poverty, a significantly higher rate than those without caring responsibilities, and the gap is getting wider.

“The act of caring is hugely valuable to us as a society and to the people being cared for but this isn’t reflected by our social security system, which should be ensuring that nobody has to go without essentials. Carers deserve better and as a nation we must do better, which is why this coalition is so important.”

Chris James, Director of External Affairs at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said: “Unpaid carers play a crucial role in society, but their contribution too often goes unrecognised and, in many cases, leads to financial hardship. In a recent survey, we found around half of carers of people living with MND have faced financial difficulty as a result of their caring role. That’s a worry they should not have to be dealing with at such a difficult time. Carers make great sacrifices to provide care and support to their loved ones – they in turn need support. That’s why the MND Association has joined forces with 90 organisations to call on the government for carers to receive improved financial support and more opportunities to remain in work.”

The trade union Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) has also joined the coalition. Paddy Lillis – Usdaw General Secretary says: “Usdaw has a long record of campaigning for a social security system that better supports people providing unpaid care, along with changes to help carers stay in paid work for longer while caring. So we are pleased to join forces with so many other organisations who share our aims and ambitions.

“The vast majority of care in the UK is provided by family and friends; without their willingness and ability to provide care, local authority social services and the NHS would collapse under the strain. All too often, carers feel life is a pressure cooker of competing demands, with worries about money, time off work, their own health and that of the person they are caring for. Now, with more people than ever providing care, the Government must act to recognise and properly reward their enormous contribution.”

In Scotland, where health and care are devolved matters, the Carers (Scotland) Act gives all adult and young carers rights. There are an estimated 800,000 unpaid carers in Scotland, and this includes 30,000 young carers under the age of 18.

* Sources: Carers UK; Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers; Care Information Scotland.