There are 759,000 adults carers in Scotland – 17% of the adult population. There are an estimated 29,000 young carers in Scotland – 4% of the under 16 population. Every year over 160,000 take on a caring role. 171,000 people care for 35 hours a week or more. 132,000 people care for 50 hours a week or more. 59% of carers are female, 41% male. 3 in 5 of us will become carers at some point in our lives. Over 250,000 people juggle caring with holding down a job. The main carers’ benefit is worth just £62.10 for a minimum of 35 hours and even with carers supplement only brings carers allowance to the equivalent of jobseekers. A third of carers are struggling to pay utility bills, 47% have been in debt and half are struggling to make ends meet, cutting back on food and heating as a result. 8 in 10 carers say their health is worse because of caring. 56% of carers are employed or self-employed. By 2037 the number of carers in Scotland will have increased to around 1 million. Carers save the Scottish economy £10.3 billion – close to the cost of providing NHS services in Scotland. Across the UK, the 2 million full-time carers save the UK Government the equivalent of the budgets for NHS England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined, at pre-covid levels that were close to £136bn per annum, during COVID with increased responsibilities due to service shutdowns, that is closer to £205Bn.
This week I signed papers, as did another, to join with the two ESA benefit claimants in England currently challenging the UK Government on the COVID uplift. I made a promise during the election that I’d fight for the carers in Scotland, particularly the 132,000 full-time carers. That’s exactly what I am doing. As a legacy claimant, I have the opportunity to stand for my own rights and for others, and that is exactly what I am doing.
That means (if both I and the 4th person are approved to join) that the case now has two ESA claimants, an Income Support claimant and someone on JSA. This means that all three of the legacy benefits shafted by the tories will be represented. The two claimants from ESA already have permission to proceed, the Income Support and JSA are awaiting approval to join the case. If the case is successful, over 2 million benefit claimants in the UK stand to be retroactively paid the COVID uplift denied to them over the past year.
Politicians stomp their feet and clap for carers, but the reality is that the accrimony serves their political agenda, the right is served by the presentation of austerity, the left of indignation of the same. Under that situation, nothing will change. They were so slow in approving their own pay rises or dolling out billions in contracts to their mates for PPE, but for the unpaid carers, who if they walked away tomorrow, the entire health and social care system would collapse – absolutely sod all.
The SNP in Scotland proclaims that they’ve paid an extra sum of carers supplement, and the fact that they pay carers supplement, but what they don’t tell you is that carers supplement is a half-assed cop-out. It was only ever intended to be a band-aid. It was a levelling up, designed as part of a 2015 plan to reform carers remuneration as a whole. First supported, ironically by a member of the House of Lords, and submitted by way of grassroots activists in the major parties to their local branches. In the SNP it made it to their conference and was then adopted. But it was only meant to be stage 1 of a package of reformations. So stopping where they did was a cop-out. I can say that with full authority because the 2015 plan for said reformation was written by me and was reported both at the time and has been since. Because of the way it was presented to parties, most of their higher-ups didn’t even know its source.
In typical politician style, throwing money at it was their solution and stopping there. Sections 2 to 12 of that report called for sweeping reforms, most of which were designed to eliminate prejudice and discrimination – none have been considered nor inacted and carers in the UK continue to be one of the most highly discriminated groups in the country – and good luck getting any of them into parliament!
You’ve heard about it in the news, how those on “legacy benefits” have been denied the COVID uplift. But what exactly is all the fuss about?
Remuneration & Transitional protection
For almost a decade, since the introduction of Universal Credit, those on ESA, Income Support and JSA have been told not to apply for Universal Credit, but instead to allow the DWP to transfer them automatically to the new benefit. In simple terms, Universal Credit is not the same as the legacy benefits, therefore there is no way to know until you apply, what you’ll actually get. It could go up, it could go down, it could stay the same.
The transitional protections build into what is called “managed transfer” ensures that what a person gets on the legacy benefits is at least the same as what they currently get. So if a person gets more on UC, that’s fine, but should the new UC calculation mean that they would get less as a new application, the transitional protection ensures they get the same as they are currently on.
Put simply, it’s the equivelant of a minimum wage.
The big caveat in all of this is that, if a person applies for UC on their own recognisance by making a claim for the benefit they lose transitional protection so there is no way to know what they would get and they are by no means guaranteed the same amount, which means through the obvious cracks in the UC system, the person will lose benefits.
5 Week Time Limit
In addition to the above, there’s also the 5-week time limit a person has to wait before getting their universal credit, another pitfall of the system, and sure they can get an advance, but an advance isn’t a grant, it’s a loan that they must pay back, so in addition to a reduction in income, they have to wait for 5-weeks during a pandemic for income, while simultaneously not knowing how much they would get, then having to pay back any advance from their benefit, further reducing it.
Be clear, The £20 COVID uplift is for the “living expenses” component of Universal Credit, of which ESA, IS and JSA have equivalents. The UC claimants were afforded an increase in that component, the legacy benefits were not. We’re talking about means-tested benefits here.
The Tories stood and clapped for carers, as did the other parties, but the reality of the situation is that neither the general public nor the politicians actually give a shit about carers – why would they? They derive a benefit equivelant to the NHS Budget, and they have built a health and social care system completely on their backs for no more than an allowance. Have you ever wondered why the primary benefit for carers is called “carers allowance” and not “carers benefit”? Well, that comes down to language meaning everything. If you call something a benefit, there are certain rights that the person has with respect to it. But the primary legislation that underpins carers allowance specifically refers to it as an allowance in order to deprive carers of certain rights.
Workers and Employees
You might not know this but the terms “worker” and “employee” actually have two totally different meanings.
Employee: An employee is someone who works for you under the terms of an employment contract. A contract of employment could be written, oral or implied. This could be salaried, where they receive a fixed payment each month for working a minimum number of hours, which is commonplace in roles like managers of retail stores. Alternatively, it could be waged, where the person is paid an hourly wage for their labour.
Worker: The category of worker is wider and includes any individual person who works for someone else, whether under an employment contract or other type of contract, but is not self-employed. This category can include casual workers, agency workers or some freelance workers but the terms of the contract will determine their employment status.
It is the second of the two that carers should fall under. To be a worker a person must have a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (your contract doesn’t have to be written) their reward is for money or a benefit in kind, for example, the promise of a contract or future work. In the case of carers, they are required by law to be performing the function for no less than 35 hours per week. The role of an unpaid carer is identical to that of their private or public sector counterparts. A requirement in the private or public sector, of 35 hours per week, would be classified as a full-time contract. So why not for unpaid carers?
Another requirement of being classified as a worker is that they only have a limited right to send someone else to do the work (subcontract) they have to turn up for work even if they don’t want to. Well, with unpaid carers, that requirement is stronger than paid employees in the private or public sector. This can be illustrated no better than what happened recently in Fife with me.
My mother gets 4 appointments of 30 minutes each during the day for personal care where 2 female carers come in to wash and deal with her personal hygiene, but for the other 22 hours, she’s my responsibility. When there was a disruption to the contracted company that does that, I received a phone call from them saying the council had been notified. Fife council advised someone from their team would stand in. 6 hours later, I’d heard nothing and when I contacted them, they said nobody was coming because, and I quote: “There was an unpaid carer on the premises”. It is automatically assumed that because an unpaid carer is on the premises, they should automatically be the fallback for everything. Irrespective of whether or not it is physically feasible for them.
Private sector employees, when they are ill, are covered by colleagues. The same is true with the public sector. This is how sick leave operates in organisations. If a private company is unable to perform a function they are under contract with a local authority to perform, the system is supposed to compensate and the local authority takes over. The reality, however, is that discrimination prevails. The system has been so used to taking advantage of carers, it is automatically assumed they will stand-in.
Unpaid Carers, for this reason, have no choice but to act. They also have no fallback. They can’t phone in and say they can’t come to work.
It also becomes more sinister when you realise that unpaid carers have a gun to their head. They don’t turn up to do their job and the person they care for is left alone, it triggers a criminal process for abandonment. So in terms of the second requirement of being a “worker”, namely “limited right to send someone else to do the work”, that is most certainly met.
The next requirement of being a worker is that their employer has to have work for them to do as long as the contract or arrangement lasts they aren’t doing the work as part of their own limited company in an arrangement where the ‘employer’ is actually a customer or client.
Well, unpaid carers clearly aren’t running a business, and their role only exists so long as the person they care for is alive. When the person passes away or needs to be moved into a facility, the caring role obviously ends, so that is most certainly the third requirement of the employer (in this case the British State) having work for them to do so long as the “arrangement” lasts.
Obviously meeting the requirements of a worker, you’d assume that unpaid carers would get the same rights as ordinary workers like:
- getting the National Minimum Wage
- protection against unlawful deductions from wages
- the statutory minimum level of paid holiday
- the statutory minimum length of rest breaks
- to not work more than 48 hours on average per week or to opt out of this right if they choose
- protection against unlawful discrimination
- protection for ‘whistleblowing’ – reporting wrongdoing in the workplace
- to not be treated less favourably if they work part-time
Wrong! We saw politicians line up in the streets during the pandemic to decry factory workers being paid £3,£4 and £5 per hour, and the politicians called it “worker exploitation” but the average unpaid carer workers far in advance of 50 hours per week. Taking that figure (which is clearly un underestimation and extremely conservative) and the average income of an unpaid carer at around £115 per week, that works out at £2.30 per hour. How is that not exploitation?
On unlawful deductions, well you wait and see what happens when a person being cared for is taken into hospital. Carers Allowance is linked directly to the person’s benefits, so if the person goes into hospital, a carer’s benefits stops. This is another personal experience of mine.
In October 2018, NHS Fife diagnosed my mother with cancer after she was admitted to the hospital with sepsis. A number of whistleblowers advised me that the denial of surgery to remove the tumour from her bladder was ill-founded. For 5 months (while my mother was in hospital), I fought for a proper second opinion. When that was delivered in May 2019, it was found she had been misdiagnosed with cancer. Delays in discharge thereafter brought us to September 2019, a full 11 months.
With her in hospital, my carers allowance stopped. With my carers allowance stopped, my income support stopped as well. I was specifically advised not to claim UC, only to put my income support on hold, because if I transferred to UC, there was no protection, and once transferred, I could not transfer back to income support. I was also told that I likely would not qualify because I was “not ready for work”. This is because I was performing the same role, in a different location with a workload increase due to travelling 25 miles because some idiot politicians decided to close the local hospital to acute admissions and transfer it all to the other side of fife.
So for 11 months, I was denied an income, despite still performing the role. I was denied other benefits, despite still performing the role. That sounds a lot like unlawful deductions?
I don’t get holidays, I don’t get rest breaks, I definitely work more than 48 hours with no time protections. Carers are clearly discriminated against, not least those on legacy benefits which is clear by the current case with the COVID uplift.
But why aren’t carers classed as workers? Well in simple terms, the most discriminatory part of carers is the act which created carers allowance. It specifically classifies unpaid carers as not being workers in order to deprive them of the same rights as other workers – including the minimum wage.
And some might say – well take a second job!
Firstly, I would say that when they say “over 50 hours per week” the emphasis should be put on “over”. Many work 24/7. When they’re not feeding, bathing, cleaning, cooking, washing and dispensing medication, they are sleeping lightly in the room next door making sure the person they care for doesn’t stop breathing during the night, or getting up every few hours to rotate a bedbound person to stop them getting compression sores etc. So time to actually work a second job in such circumstances is near impossible. But let’s say for argument a carer could perform a second job.
Straight away, the person’s income support or universal credit is deducted pound for pound from them. Once they reach a threshold, and the UC or Income support is gone, the carers allowance stops. In other words, the UK Government rewards them (for being able to take a second job) by taking away all of their benefits, so they end up working two jobs for half the money. The physical and emotional toll of that makes the burden almost impossible to do.
Have you ever cleaned up shit with no gloves?
Sorry to put it in such crude terms, but the world fails to realise that PPE existed before there was a pandemic. Many carers require it to perform their normal functions, particularly where the person they care for has a weakened immune system due to underlying health conditions. Everyone gripes about COVID being a bitch, but the reality is, for many carers, that was life before the pandemic, because the flu and other viruses are just as deadly for the person as COVID. The emotional response the UK at large is feeling with COVID 19, namely, isolation interspersed with the fear of accidentally killing a loved one by bringing a killer virus into the home; this was a daily reality for carers before a global pandemic.
One pair of gloves for medication, another for meal preparation, gloves to wash and clean the persons body and to deal with their natural bodily functions. All purchased by the carer because unlike their private and public sector counterparts, they have to pay for it themselves.
Along came COVID and governments supplied PPE to the NHS and to local authorities, arrangements were made for private companies contracted out, but absolutely zero provision was made for unpaid carers. All PPE was diverted to the NHS.
Suddenly, unpaid carers were unable to buy PPE at all, they were afforded no PPE protection for their normal role. This is why I asked the question in such crude terms. Image having to deal with the bodily functions of a person without protective equipment, for no other reason than the Government just forgot about you.
When PPE eventually started to come back on sale, again politicians simply forgot about unpaid carers. No pricing controls were established and with reputable dealers all selling to the NHS and care companies, unpaid carers were forced to turn to scalpers charging 3 times as much.
First into lockdown, last out.
I want to call out the arseholes. I call them that, because in their pursuit of a pint at the pub and their refusal to follow COVID guidance, they’ve jailed unpaid carers. Everyone seems to be under the mistaken belief that it was just those in the shielding category who have been trapped, but they’re wrong. When you’re a carer, and in the previous hospital admissions, the person you care for has had a DNACPR (DNR) placed on their medical file, your responsibility is clear, you must act accordingly. The logic is pretty simple – A DNR indicates that a person would not be placed on a ventilator if required, because they would never come off it. In a triage situation (which is exactly what is happening with COVID) the chances of that person surviving are virtually non-existent. The DNR is an indication of two things. Firstly, they are already in a category where their underlying health issues would likely result in their death from COVID; and secondly, there’s no way they’d ever be put on a ventilator.
With these things clear, your duty as a carer is clear – you must do everything to prevent exposure of the person you care for to the virus, and so as a carer, it means you are subjected to the same isolation as the person you care for.
Many Carers entered lockdown in February last year, and have not been able to leave that isolation due to the risks. They are the last to leave lockdown because the person they care for is unable to leave lockdown. They are lock-in by default, and because the UK population seems to lack self-control, determined to flood the streets for a pissup every time lockdown is lifted, we end up in another lockdown. Because those lockdowns are phased, the carers never get the chance to leave. It’s that simple.
A carer does all they can to protect the person they love. They cannot leave the house, else risk exposure. Then one day they get the blue letter to attend a vaccine centre 10 miles away.
Many unpaid carers don’t have a car of their own. Tax, Insurance, MOT, fuel, repair costs. These are not affordable when your income is limited to just over £100 a week. So now you have two choices. You can take public transport. For many that will require a change in transport to that place. Two buses there, two buses back, all four modes of transport with zero COVID protection (because you only get 50% protection a few weeks after the first injection). Then after a number of weeks, you have it all to do again. Four journeys, this time at only 50% protection. With those risks and cases rising, and the guarantee that the person you care for could likely die from COVID, public transport is a no-go.
So what about a Taxi? 10 miles, that’s about £16 there and £16 back. That’s one half of your entire income for the week. Which as you will see from the next section of this article, isn’t exactly conducive. You simply cannot afford it, along with the normal expenses of daily living. A £20 COVID uplift would have certainly helped, but for half of Carers Allowance claimants on legacy benefits, it was denied.
Of course, all of this assumes you can actually leave the house, but for most 24/7 unpaid carers, this is simply not possible. Why? Because you’d have to leave the person you care for. Which would be abandonment. Which is a criminal offence.
So you’re stuck at home, you can get a home vaccine right? Wrong! To qualify for a home vaccine, even those the person you care for might qualify for one due to their disability and the district nurse is probably already coming to the house for that reason, carers are not classified as “housebound” therefore have no right to a home vaccine.
Public and Private carers, however, are either given time by their work for vaccination or have the luxury of vaccination at work. Unpaid carers, because the law deliberately classifies them as something other than the healthcare workers that they actually are, have no such right. Their home is their work, but they have no workers right. They also have no right to it because of the fact they are not classed as housebound. Try writing to the politicians on that one and what you get back is political spin. Why? Because carers are state-sponsored worker exploitation. Lowest paid workers in the country, no workers rights, declared as “less-than” by politicians and afforded no protections of their public and private sector counterparts.
Supermarkets and retail
There are discount cards galore for the private and public sector workers, nothing for the unpaid carers thought. At £115 a week, your purchases are frugal. Being stuck indoors, you are forced to turn to home delivery – something which the supermarkets have taken advantage of during this pandemic.
Firstly, you are forced to spend at least £40 on your shopping as a carer. The reason being that supermarkets, where the order is less than £40, they apply a charge of between £4 and £6. Secondly, they charge anywhere from £3 to £6.50 for a delivery slot. Although quite why a delivery at 12 noon should cost more than one at 8pm, one wonders. There is no extra cost for delivery at different times, it’s merely the supermarkets taking advantage of people for slots being busier at different times, but the per delivery cost is the same for each customer, it’s just some have to pay more than others.
To the ordinary worker, £10 in charges doesn’t sound like much, but when it is 1/10th of your entire income, it’s a different story.
What will really bend your mind is when you realise that a house 1 mile away from a supermarket order at 12 noon might pay £6.50 for delivery, whereas a home 10 miles away may pay £3.50 for delivery at 8pm. The charging structure is non-sensical.
But what is clear, straight off the bat, just for delivery, a carer is forced to pay up to 1/12th of their entire week’s income on delivery, up to 1/6th if they can only order under £40 worth of food. So if they have to pay an electricity bill or something else from their carers allowance (which is normal) and that happens to exceed £20, they might only be left with £40 to do them the week, precluding the ability to actually be able to buy more than £40 worth of shopping
That makes the cart charge a tax on low income persons – which is discriminatory.
And you might think: “well what about getting deals at the supermarket”. Well if you want to shop at Tesco, that might sound like a good idea, but it isn’t. I mention Tesco specifically, but I am sure other supermarkets do so too.
If you buy something at £10 and you buy 10 of them in bulk because you get a 30% discount if you do, for 10 of them you’d expect to pay £70 right? It seems logical. Not if you’re shopping at Tesco though. Their system is designed where they first have to authorise the full amount on your card, then they actually take the amount after discounts later.
So say you have £40 in your account. You buy what would be £70 worth of shopping at full price, but you’ve gotten discounts which bring it down to £39, you’d expect your card to be charged for £39, right? Wrong! Tesco authorises £70, then they deduct £39 from your account, however, if you don’t have £70 in your account for that initial authorisation, you don’t get your shopping. So you can only order shopping up to the value that you have in your account (before discounts are applied) which in this case would be £40, which with discounts applied afterwards could be just £20 or £30 worth of shopping.
Roughly put, the supermarkets have been screwing carers and disabled people the length of the country.
Put all of this together, and what you have is a group of people with no rights, subjected to substandard pay, vaccine discrimination, PPE discrimination and no protections from the systems that should be protecting them. Politicians getting away with laws that deliberately remove the rights of those people. A subsection of carers even discriminated against in relation to their universal credit claiming counterparts because they are on legacy benefits. The reason they are on legacy benefits? Because the UK Government didn’t get its finger out of its arse and transfer them to UC with protection before the pandemic.
Carers are, for lack of a better word, getting royally screwed from all sides, but the population clapped for them, so that’s alright. No! It’s not alright. Carers are not only the lowest-paid claimants in the UK, but they are also the lowest-paid workers. The fact that society chooses not to classify them as workers are down to the weakness of this country to stand up for those who are at the lower end of the spectrum. Enough is enough. Something needs to be done about it.