Today in this country, accessing care is too expensive and those who work in care are underpaid, undervalued and overworked.Beth Winter MP
By Beth Winter MP
Care work, whether paid or unpaid and whether for younger people, older people or disabled people, is undervalued. Having listened to other contributions, every one of us either currently cares for someone or knows someone who has a caring responsibility. Coming to terms with somebody’s illness is difficult in any case, but to have to fight for recognition of the invaluable role that that person fulfils, and to beg for money not to have to suffer poverty, is shameful and must be addressed. After the last election, the Prime Minister stated:
“we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.
More than two years later, we have seen no change or improvement in support for caring.
Today in this country, accessing care is too expensive; those who work in care are underpaid, undervalued and overworked. Owners of some care businesses have been accused of being asset strippers. Those who have to Toggle showing location of conduct visits have too great expectations. The time and effort of those who care for family members is too often forgotten by this Government. As others have said, carer’s allowance at its current rate is completely unacceptable. The pathetic uplift of just over £2 is absolutely shameful. Inflation could hit 10% this year. How can people be expected to survive on that paltry amount? It is beyond me and it should be beyond this Government.
The earnings threshold is very low and blunt, as others have said. It is lower than other income replacement benefits and needs to be reviewed urgently. We need a response from the Government. For more than a decade the Work and Pensions Committee has repeated called for an increased earnings limit and the introduction of a taper. The uprating of carer’s allowance needs to be synchronised with the real living wage. Carers UK stated in response to the spring statement:
“Many carers are already dipping into savings using credit cards, and cutting back on essentials to keep the person they care for warm and to protect their health.”
People currently cannot afford to eat or heat their homes; how are they expected to survive with a real-terms cut in their benefits?
I want to focus the rest of my remarks on my country of Wales. I am proud of our support for carers and am pleased to have the opportunity to pay tribute to a dear family friend who was the MP for Aberavon until 2005, Dr Hywel Francis, who sadly passed away recently. He was responsible for introducing the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, which aimed to ensure that carers were adequately valued and supported. The dismal financial situation in which so many currently find themselves means that that aim will not be fulfilled. It has been impossible to implement all the excellent things in that Act, which is coming up to its 20th anniversary.
I am pleased that the Welsh Government are following Dr Francis’s caring and compassionate example. I want to refer to some positive examples of support for carers, which the UK Government must look to. Last week, Julie Morgan, the Deputy Minister for Social Services in the Welsh Labour Government, highlighted how 60% of carers in Wales had reduced their hours at work to manage their caring responsibilities and 6% had given up work altogether. In recognition of that difficulty, she confirmed that 57,000 registered unpaid carers would be awarded a one-off £500 payment in a commitment worth £29 million.
There have been positive responses from agencies in Wales. Kate Young, the chair of Wales Carers Alliance and director of the All Wales Forum of Parents and Carers, welcomed the news that many unpaid carers across Wales would now be supported by that payment. Claire Morgan, director of Carers Wales, said:
“This £500 payment is an important first step in actively recognising carers’ daily contribution to our society”.
Even though Welsh Labour in government has taken more action than its counterpart in Westminster, we know there is more to do. The Welsh Government, as well as carer support organisations, recognise the need to reform the carer’s allowance across the UK. They are keeping up the pressure on the UK Government to put that right for carers, as it is the UK Government’s responsibility.
Last month, Julie Morgan said she regretted the fact that Wales did not control the carer’s allowance. The Welsh Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, Toggle showing location of published a report less than two weeks ago, saying that there should be an assessment of the potential merits of devolving the administration of social security benefits to Wales, as has happened in Scotland. Scotland has used those powers to establish the carer’s allowance supplement.
I want to remind the House that Welsh Labour in government has also introduced a £1,000 bonus for 53,000 care workers in Wales, starting in April, which will be consolidated to ensure that the living wage is paid to social care workers. That is costing the Welsh Government £43 million. I have just come back from a Citizens UK gathering in Parliament Square with Welsh colleagues that was pushing for health and social care workers in England also to be paid the living wage. I look forward to seeing that change happen.
To conclude, this issue is all part of building towards a national care service in Wales, which Welsh Labour’s programme for Government is committed to. In announcing the uplift to care workers’ pay, the Minister in Cardiff referred to the commitment
“to set up an expert group to support a shared ambition to create a National Care Service, free at the point of need”.
That was a commitment that I made when I stood for Parliament in 2019 under our manifesto, and I am pleased that Welsh Labour in government are delivering on that. There is another way forward: a way that recognises and rewards care work for the contribution that people make to society. Labour Members recognise that, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner). I hope the Government are listening, because millions throughout the country are tired of waiting.