The DWP’s new coronavirus policy slapped millions of people in the face

A worried man and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

THE WRITER OF THIS ARTICLE IS AN UNPAID CARER

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced another new measure in relation to coronavirus (Covid-19). One charity has welcomed the move. But in reality, the department has done nothing more than give lip service to millions of people. As the new policy just papers over the cracks of a failing system.

The DWP: tinkering around the edges

As Welfare Weekly reported, the DWP has changed some of the criteria for Carer’s Allowance. This is a benefit people can get if they care for a chronically ill, disabled, or sick person. The DWP pays people £66.15 a week if they care for someone for at least 35 hours. As of February 2019, over 1.3 million people claimed Carer’s Allowance. But in reality, there are at least 6.5 million people in the UK who have unpaid caring responsibilities.

So, the DWP has made some changes in response to coronavirus. As Welfare Weekly reported:

The new regulations, which come into force today (Monday 30th March 2020), allow unpaid carers in England and Wales to continue to claim Carer’s Allowance if they have a temporary break in caring, because they or the person they care for gets coronavirus or if they have to isolate because of it.

The Government has also confirmed that providing emotional support counts towards the Carer’s Allowance threshold of 35 hours of care a week – an issue which has been concerning many carers.

The measures will be reviewed in six months’ time.

A welcome move?

The move was welcomed by charity Carers UK. Its boss Helen Walker said:

we are pleased the Government has rapidly responded and introduced this new provision, ensuring that unpaid carers can continue to claim Carer’s Allowance if their caring role changes during the coronavirus outbreak.

But in reality, the DWP move is an insult to millions of people. The reality on the ground is often a world away from what charities say. The Canary spoke with one unpaid carer, who wished to remain anonymous and is referred to as ‘X’.

An unpaid carer speaks

Their daughter lives with Angelman syndrome. It’s a rare genetic disorder affecting 1 in 12,000-20,000 people. As X told The Canary, their daughter:

can’t walk or talk and is severely mentally and physically disabled. She has a happy, often excited demeanour and an obsession with water. She doesn’t require much sleep and so we don’t get much sleep. It’s difficult but she also brings us lots of joy. Hence we care for her 24/7.

We also have a 14 month old who is a handful because he is a completely normal 14 month old.

X works full time. But their partner, who had to give up work to care for their daughter, is on Carer’s Allowance. As her daughter’s care is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she gets the equivalent of 39p an hour. And while professional carers in the UK are still vastly underpaid, this mother’s effective hourly rate is appalling. As X told The Canary, their partner’s role is complex:

We have a video monitor in her room and have to settle her several times a night. Often my wife ends up sleeping in her enclosed bed with her. Our daughter also has epilepsy because of her condition. But it’s currently under control.

Countless, systemic problems

Unpaid carers sometimes also have more expertise in the health conditions of their loved ones than medical professionals do. Yet still, the DWP thinks that, even if a carer just did the 35 hours a week to get the allowance, they are only worth £1.89 an hour.

Also, the state offers no other support for these people. For example, the lack of personal protective equipment within the NHS and professional care sector during the pandemic has been hitting the headlines. But no thought or provision has been made for unpaid carers, often dealing with severely ill people.

Meanwhile, the DWP’s new coronavirus plan sees it acknowledge the “emotional” support carers give to their loved ones. But as the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) pointed out last year, the carers themselves need more support in this area.

“Total ignorance”

So, from 39p an hour to no other support from the government, the DWP’s latest move may stick in the throat of many unpaid carers. X told The Canary:

I think it shows a total ignorance of the situation for carers and especially family carers. Caring for your family is not something you can just turn on and off. You don’t have another opportunity for income if you’re too ill to care for them for a couple of weeks. It is something that terrifies us also because we don’t have anyone else who could care for our kids if we get ill and the likelihood is that if one of us gets ill the rest will.

We save the state £132 billion a year. Yet society still undervalues us and we receive the lowest benefit, despite often working extremely hard to care for our loved ones.

The latest cold comfort from the DWP will mean little to many unpaid carers. Once the pandemic is over, a root and branch review of the way these 6.5 million people are treated by the state is needed. But given how little has changed for unpaid carers in the previous decade, it’s unlikely the department will budge.

Featured image via Wikimedia – Bhernandez / Wikimedia – UK Government

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