Political leaders urged to act as poverty crisis places ‘intolerable pressure’ on carers on frontline of Coronavirus battle

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Today over 100, caring, anti-poverty, women’s rights organisations, unions and think tanks have joined forces to issue an urgent plea for politicians across the UK to act to protect carers from a growing poverty crisis.

In a joint open letter, the organisations say that carers on the frontline of the fight against the Coronavirus are facing ‘intolerable pressure’, having been undervalued and under rewarded for far too long. A YouGov poll published today also found that more than three-quarters of the UK public believe care work is not valued highly enough by the government.

The organisations warn that failing to ensure carers are protected from poverty would be ‘truly unforgiveable’.

The organisations behind the open letter say that an inadequate social security system and poverty wages have left both paid and unpaid carers languishing in poverty for years.

New research by Carers UK has revealed that 81% of unpaid carers are having to spend more money during the outbreak, Gingerbread has cautioned that measures to limit the spread of the virus will put “huge pressure” on single parent families which were already twice as likely to be in poverty, and the Women’s Budget Group has warned that many low-paid women will not benefit from government support because they earn too little or are in insecure, temporary and part-time work. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has called on government to “address the gaping holes in our social safety net”.

The signatories, which include Oxfam, Carers UK, the Women’s Budget Group, the IPPR and Unison are calling for carers, both paid and unpaid, to be protected from poverty through increases to social security levels and a boost in cash given to social care providers.

The coalition is calling for increases to key benefits, including Carer’s Allowance and Child Benefit, as well as immediate changes to Universal Credit, including removing the five week wait for an initial payment, the limit on the number of children families receive payment for, and the benefit cap.

The organisations are also calling for a significant cash injection into the social care system to enable providers to pay their workers a minimum of the Real Living Wage.

The urgent plea comes as a YouGov poll commissioned by Oxfam shows that:

  • 78% of adults in the UK think that care work is not valued highly enough by the UK Government, only one in nine (11%) said they were valued highly enough;
  • 70% think care workers are paid too little – only 1% said they are paid too much;
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) believe that those on low incomes who look after sick or disabled people should receive more financial support through increased social security payments;
  • 49% believe governments should spend more on social security for parents who work on very low incomes, compared to only 4% who think governments should spend less.

The coalition highlights that the vast majority of carers across the UK are women, which reinforces unfair expectations and widens gender inequalities. Many of these women also face age, disability and race inequality. The signatories say there has been ‘insufficient action’ to share care work more evenly.

The letter signatories say that the Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated carers’ situation placing them under intolerable pressure; with many facing unprecedented levels of danger.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive said, said: “We all owe the nation’s carers a debt of gratitude for putting themselves at risk to look after others during this pandemic. Carers have long been under-valued – even before this crisis hit, too many were living below the breadline, struggling to stay afloat. There’s overwhelming public support for carers to be given a fairer deal – political leaders across the UK owe it to them to make sure they’re protected from poverty, now and in the future.”

Katy Styles, from Chartham near Canterbury, is an unpaid carer for her husband who has a degenerative, progressive disease. She said her costs had increased due to the Coronavirus, saying: “We aren’t able to leave the house and we haven’t been able to get an online shopping slot, so we’ve been reliant on small local firms for supplies; and each delivery costs an extra £10. Not everyone has that sort of money to spare every time they need a shop.”

Katy is supporting the call for greater recognition and support for carers. She said: “It felt like carers’ contributions were totally below the radar before the pandemic, but now, behind closed doors, it feels like we’re completely invisible.

“Besides the financial implications of the crisis, physically I’m exhausted and mentally I’m crushed. And yet through Carer’s Allowance, the government values my efforts at less than £10 a day. It makes you feel worthless.”

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “Unpaid carers providing care for family members and friends have been vital in the UK’s effort to keep vulnerable people safe from the Coronavirus, yet they tell us they feel ignored and invisible in this epidemic.

“Our research shows that the financial penalty that comes with being an unpaid carer is so much bigger at the moment.  The vast majority (81%) of unpaid carers are spending more on food and household bills, on top of what they already contribute towards care costs, installing adaptions in the home and increased fuel bills.

“It is simply unacceptable that Carer’s Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind when unpaid carers contribute so much to our society and the economy – now, more than ever. This pandemic needs to be a turning point in how we as a society treat carers. Government must ensure there is not a financial penalty for caring and invest in the care and support families so desperately need.”

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group said: “This pandemic has shone a light on the vital role of carers. For too long, care work has been undervalued, underfunded and underpaid. Caring responsibilities don’t fall equally; women make up the vast majority of the nation’s carers, both paid and unpaid. That means that it’s women who are at greatest risk of being pushed further and further into poverty during the Coronavirus crisis. The Government must take urgent action to protect the health and incomes of all carers.”


Notes to editors:

  • Signatories to the joint open letter to MPs across the UK, MSPs in Scotland, and AMs in Wales include: Oxfam GB, Carers UK, the Women’s Budget Group, Child Poverty Action Group, Unison, Unite, GMB.
  • Read the full letter and list of signatories here: https://oxfam.app.box.com/s/h1f9lqxyb46t63ciff0p1zrrn3ibhhuz/file/658824132815
  • All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,814 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th – 27th April 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
  • Read Oxfam’s briefing on the link between care work and poverty in the UK here: https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/handle/10546/620980
  • Carers UK research: https://www.carersuk.org/for-professionals/policy/policy-library/caring-behind-closed-doors-report
  • Gingerbread research: https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/policy-campaigns/covid-19-briefing/
  • Women’s Budget Group: https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/FINAL.pdf
  • IPPR quote: https://www.newstatesman.com/spotlight/coronavirus/2020/03/coronavirus-pandemic-highlights-gaping-holes-uk-s-social-safety-net

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