Today over 100, caring, anti-poverty, women’s rights and other national and local organisations have joined forces to issue an urgent plea for politicians to do more to protect carers, including those in Scotland, from a growing poverty crisis.
In a joint open letter to politicians across Britain, 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. They warn that a failure to protect carers from poverty when they have, and continue, to support and care for so many people would be ‘truly unforgivable’.
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 Scotland has revealed that 80% 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 signatories, including 35 Scottish organisations which range from Oxfam Scotland, Carers Scotland and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group to One Parent Families Scotland, the STUC and The Poverty Alliance, 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 across the UK to pay their workers a minimum of the Real Living Wage.
The urgent plea comes as new YouGov polling commissioned by Oxfam across the UK shows that 78% of UK adults think that care work is not valued highly enough by the UK Government.
A parallel poll in Scotland shows that:
- The majority of adults in Scotland (62%) think that care work is not valued highly enough by the Scottish Government;
- Two thirds (66%) of adults in the Scotland believe 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;
- More than half (53%) believe governments should spend more on parents who work on very low incomes, with only 3% saying they should receive 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.
Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of care, something all of us depends on at some point in our life. Carers are the glue that hold our society together, perhaps now more than ever before. Yet even before this pandemic, carers were more likely to live in poverty, that’s just not right. We must act, together, to fix it.
“Today we have one simple call: for politicians across Britain to act now to end carers’ poverty. Carers must be given the same level of support and respect they give to others; both now and for good.”
The Scottish Government has put in place welcome measures, such as the £460 per year supplement for those receiving the UK-wide Carer’s Allowance and a commitment to provide funding to ensure social care workers giving direct adult support receive at least the Real Living Wage. However, amid financial pressures all governments across the UK must do more to protect all carers from poverty and to better value their contribution.
Lynn Williams from Paisley is an unpaid carer for her husband who has a high level complete spinal injury. She said: “Our costs have definitely increased because of the pandemic; even just little things like the fact that the house has to be warm for my husband, and now that we’re both home all day it means we’re paying to have it on constantly.
“The emotional side of caring can also be overwhelming. This crisis has really brought home the fact that my husband and I are on our own; there’s no safety net. I have no idea what happens to my husband if I get sick; none. I try not to think about it.
“We need to fully acknowledge that right now, hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers are the glue holding families and communities together. Many have lost what little support they had before the pandemic, so what we continue to do comes often at great personal cost.
“Many carers are teetering; they are traumatised by this situation. If we go back to how things were before, then we have learned nothing and we face a ticking health time bomb as carers were already on their knees.”
Fiona Collie, Policy & Public Affairs Manager at Carers Scotland, added: “Our recent research, “Caring Behind Closed Doors”, laid bare the huge impact the Coronavirus pandemic is having on unpaid carers.
“Carers told us they are facing increasing caring demands as well as overwhelming financial and emotional pressure. 80% of carers in Scotland told us they are having to spend more money on food and household bills during the outbreak.
“Governments must recognise the huge efforts of Scotland’s 700,000 unpaid carers during this pandemic and act now to provide the support unpaid carers so desperately need.”
Anne Meikle, Convener of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, said: “As with all public health crises, the social, economic and health impacts of Covid-19 are deeply gendered. Caring responsibilities don’t fall equally; women make up the vast majority of care workers and unpaid carers, and now many mums will also be juggling looking after their children at home. It’s these women who now face being pushed further into poverty.
“It’s time these inequalities were addressed, and that carer’s contributions to our communities and economy are properly recognised and rewarded.”
For more information and interviews, please contact: Rebecca Lozza, Oxfam Scotland Media and Communications Officer: email@example.com / 07917738450
Notes to Editors
- Scottish signatories to the joint open letter to MPs across the UK, MSPs in Scotland, and AMs in Wales include: Oxfam Scotland, Business in the Community Scotland, The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, Scottish Care, IPPR Scotland, CPAG Scotland, The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and Unison Scotland.
- Read the full letter and list of signatories here: https://www.oxfamapps.org.uk/coronavirus/our-response/in-the-uk/care-for-carers/care-letter/
- All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. For UK polling, total sample size was 1,814 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th – 27th April 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+)
- For Scottish polling, total sample size was 1,095 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24th – 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 Scotland research: https://www.carersuk.org/scotland/news/the-forgotten-families-in-lockdown-unpaid-carers-close-to-burnout-during-covid-19-crisis
- 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