By Bill Heaney
The current system deters carers from claiming an allowance, penalises them for working or studying and turns its back on disabled carers and older carers, according to Cllr Marie McNair MSP and vice chair of the Health and Social Care Committee in West Dunbartonshire Council.
Ms McNair, pictured right, told the Scottish Parliament this week: “Powers over take-up are reserved to Westminster, but that issue also needs to be addressed.
“For far too long, unpaid carers have been given a raw deal by the social security system. Their essential, compassionate and unquantifiable contribution cannot be overstated. I take this opportunity to praise the staff and volunteers of Carers of West Dunbartonshire and Carers Link East Dunbartonshire for providing an outstanding level of support to carers in my constituency.
“During the 14 years that I had the privilege of being part of the nursing team at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in my constituency, I saw at first hand how caring, attentive, and compassionate unpaid carers are. That was at the time of greatest need—at the end of life—and the unwavering, unconditional love and support that they showed always filled me with respect and admiration.
“That is especially true when we consider the contribution of unpaid carers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The love and support that they have given to those they care for has been a lifesaver to many, especially at a time when those people have not had full access to other services. That is why I welcome the intentions of the bill.
“As a member of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, I can advise that we received powerful testimony from carers and others about the impact that Covid-19 has had. The evidence about the emotional and financial impact was clear.
“Carers said that the doubling of the carers allowance supplement in December will be very welcome at such a challenging financial time. It is a no-brainer that we should continue to provide that additional amount as Covid-19 pressures continue. Members should contrast that approach with one that removes the £20 uplift from universal credit—a cut that will put thousands of carers into poverty.”
She added: “The evidence that the committee received also made it clear that wider reform to the available support is essential. We must not let carers down when it comes to that much-needed reform, as they have been let down for far too long.
“Since 1976, when the invalid care allowance was introduced, successive UK Governments have refused to align the amount that is paid with other earnings replacement benefits. Those UK Governments had years and years and numerous opportunities to correct their mistakes and the broken promises made to carers, but they refused to do so.
“I am pleased that in Scotland we have acted to do that with the carers allowance supplement. It put carers on a par with others, which was long overdue. When we have the safe transfer of carers allowance cases to Social Security Scotland from the DWP, we should continue apace with the changes that carers are calling for.
“We must devise a new system of carers assistance that does not discourage claims, and one that more ably responds to the real-world demands on carers in Scotland.
“The current system deters carers from claiming, penalises them for working or studying and turns its back on disabled carers and older carers. Powers over take-up are reserved to Westminster, but that issue also needs to be addressed. The underlying benefit rules mean that many disabled and pension-age carers see no gain from claiming. The carers allowance supplement has altered that position in Scotland, so we need to get the message out that it is worth while applying.
“The remaining reserved policy hinders our take-up message because of the conflict that the UK benefits system creates for disabled people who are in receipt of the severe disability premium. A disabled person can lose the severe disability premium if their carer claims carers allowance, so that approach puts financial conflict into the relationship between the carer and the person they assist. That obvious deterrent to claiming must end if we are to fully maximise the support on offer to carers.
“We must get it right when setting the new carers assistance scheme for Scotland. We must not just listen to carers before taking no action on concerns raised, in the way that successive UK Governments did.
“I look forward to this Parliament instead recognising the massive contribution that unpaid carers make, and then being able to hold our heads up as we create an effective and compassionate system of support: one that brings the step change that is needed to properly recognise and support carers in Scotland.”