Roy Bainton’s guest column: Carers need support as well

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We all say it. It’s one of the commonest vocal exchanges: ‘Take care.’

It usually represents a gentle reminder not to get run over by a bus. But ‘taking care’ has much wider implications.

Back in the 1990s, when my father-in-law suffered two strokes, and mother in law became confined to a wheelchair, we hoped that 2 daily visits from Social Services would enable them to remain independent.

It failed miserably. Granddad and Grandma’s age and debility had plunged them into humiliating despair. Dismissing the expensive care home option, my wife and I had no choice other than to uproot them from their once happy retirement in Hull and make a home for them in our house in Mansfield.

We became carers, and soon realised we had joined the ranks of an unseen army, unconsciously disregarded by the population at large, cruelly unheeded by our government.

Caring, at home, be it for children or geriatrics, is not a 9-5 job. It is a 24/7 operation. Our first shock back then was that, although we had two helpless old people to bathe, feed and keep warm, we could only claim a carer’s benefit for one; £39 per week. Both Grandparents have now passed away, but caring has remained in our family circle.

My brother and sister in law have fostered dozens of children over the past 30 years, and actually adopted 4 with Downs syndrome, rescuing them from a horrendous existence in mental institutions.

We might imagine, in what was trumpeted by our glorious leaders not long ago as ‘The Big Society’ where we’re ‘all in it together’ that the carer’s plight might have been eased somewhat.

Not so. Amazingly, that £39 my wife was paid almost two decades ago has only risen by £20.

Today’s Carer’s Allowance Benefit is £59.75 a week for a minimum of 35 hours caring – that’s a splendid £1.67 an hour. But you can’t claim it if you earn more than £100 per week or receive the basic state pension. But, if you’re young, fit and in work, you might ask - what’s the problem? There are plenty.

Looking after old people means huge heating bills to keep them warm. You need to spend money on transport for hospital visits.

If you care for the incontinent, expect your washer and dryer to be on all day. And above all, you need to spend time with them. They’re not caged zoo animals; they’re human beings who enjoy communication, love and entertainment.

Britain’s 6.5 million carers save the UK economy £119 billion a year – an average of more than £18,000 each. 2.3 million left their jobs to look after their loved ones at home. Almost half of all carers are in debt, many owing more than £10,000.

They cut back on food and other essentials. Yet cuts to carers’ benefits will reach £1 billion by 2018. Carers can’t strike, but if they stopped caring, it would cost the Government £326 million a day.

With a General Election only months away, the charity are spearheading a campaign to alleviate this misery.

Amazingly, with all the social legislation passed between 1997-2010 this problem remains, swept under this government’s carpet, their only response being to find a larger carpet and a bigger sweeping brush.