I really don’t want to count up just how much money it’s cost me to be a full-time carer. If you add the money I’ve taken out of my cash savings to potential lost earnings in the last four years, you are easily talking around £45,000 - £50,000 and frankly, that’s being conservative.
Of course, I didn’t become a carer for the money, but that won’t cut much ice with my bank if I get overdrawn. Currently I receive Carer’s Allowance (CA) of £250.50 every four weeks. To qualify for CA a person must care for at least 35 hours a week. That’s the princely sum of £1.79 an hour. Needless to say I and many other carers do way more than that, so our pay rate is actually even less.
I’m not extravagant and I try to save where I can. I buy clothes from good local charity shops and the tail end of the sales, when there’s a good bargain to be had. I take books out from the library and I don’t use expensive cosmetics or perfumes (partly out of choice too, to be fair).
I admit there are other things I could have cut back on. I could have grown my hair long and not had a regular haircut. I could have sold my car (a fourteen year old hatchback, since you ask). I could have stayed at home instead of going away to visit friends when Dad was in respite care.
But full-time caring can be hard going at times. Getting out of the house to see friends, go for a walk or even just perk myself up with a decent haircut, is vital to keeping my own sense of self and looking after my physical and mental health (without which I’m no use to anyone, not least Dad).
I’m lucky compared to many carers. I live with Dad and the quid pro quo is that he pays the Council Tax and household bills, so although I’ve lost out on money I’m not actually in debt. But many carers are and I’m not in the least surprised.
When the Scottish Government assumes some social security powers next year it is planning to raise the amount of Carers’ Allowance to that paid for Jobseekers Allowance. That means full-time carers will be elevated to the same status as an unemployed person looking for work – yippee!
Of course, any extra income is welcome and I’m not arguing that carers should be paid a fortune - even though that’s what we collectively save the UK government each year (£132 billion – yes, billion – in 2015, according to figures from Carers UK). But surely we shouldn’t actually be out of pocket to the tune of thousands or tens of thousands of pounds?
It’s not about the money in the end; it’s about wanting the best for the person you care for. But if the UK Government wants more families to get involved in the care of their relatives (as they say they do) then they have to make it financially viable for them to do so.