Sir Ed Davey has branded the Government’s 5p a day increase of Carer’s Allowance “a total insult” to those caring for loved ones during the pandemic.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats said it is “breathtakingly awful” that the Government thinks the increase of 5p is sufficient.
“I’ve been engaging with a lot of carers throughout this pandemic, and many of them are facing extreme financial hardship,” Davey told South West Londoner.
“What makes this so awful is that the Government raised universal credit by £20 a week last April. It showed how bad benefits were in this country that it had to be raised by that amount.
“It was really important something was done to address it, but why didn’t they increase carers allowance by the same amount?”
The Kingston and Surbiton MP revealed that his party has twice written to Boris Johnson offering to discuss possible solutions, but has yet to receive a response.
The Conservative’s 2019 election manifesto promised to seek a “cross party consensus” on the social care crisis.
Davey said: “It’s a part of this Government that they forget about carers. While you’ve got the tragedy of the care homes, just look at unpaid carers.
“When it comes to the vaccine, care staff were put on the list as a priority. But unpaid carers were left off.
“We pushed to get them included, and while the Government understood and eventually included them, they were left out of any official guidance on the vaccine.
“Time and again, whether it’s the money or the vaccine priorities, the government just ignores carers, and it’s just not acceptable.”
In December 2020, the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JVCI) updated its recommendations to include unpaid carers alongside those with underlying health conditions.
Davey, who is himself a carer for his disabled son, also accused the Government of failing to understand the extent of the social care crisis in the UK.
Questioned on what the treatment of carers says about the Government’s approach towards social care, the Lib Dem leader said: “I think it shows they don’t care.
“One of the arguments I keep making is that if you care about the NHS, then you must care about care.
“I don’t believe we can radically improve the NHS without tackling social care in the context of care homes and domiciliary care, but also, and critically, unpaid carers as well.
“Health doesn’t stop at the hospital door or the GP surgery, it is a continuum, and for too long governments haven’t brought into the debate social care and carers.
“It’s that insight that needs to drive government policy, but at the moment they clearly don’t get it.
“They don’t get it because of the way they’ve treated carers during the pandemic. And they clearly don’t get it if they think that a 5p increase is acceptable.
Warning of the impact that the pandemic is having on unpaid carers across the UK, Davey said: “It’s very challenging.
“My heart goes out to those millions of carers who might be isolated, and lonely and won’t have been able to go out and socialise or bring people in.
“I’ve found there’s a deep sense of anxiety amongst carers who are not only worried about their loved one, but also worried about their own health, because they know that if they fall ill, there’s no one to take over.
“I’d like to call out for a particular group, and that’s young carers. Young people are suffering anyway because of lockdown with school closures, and then they’ve got their caring responsibilities.
“We’ve just got to do far far more to help people in this pandemic. The Government’s failure to do anything is storing up a lot of trouble.”
A recent BBC News report revealed that there could be as many as 800,000 young carers in England.
Asked about what the government needs to do to address the struggles of unpaid carers, Davey added: “I think above all, the Government needs to listen to carers. They need to respond, because they’re just not.
“We’ve begun that process ourselves and it’s one of the reasons why we’ve talked about the carers allowance going up by £1,000 a year.
“We are arguing for that because we’ve seen too many examples of people in serious financial hardship.
“I’ve got to mention, ahead of the Budget, the need for a long-term sustainable future for social care.
“I am also keen to enable those who are unable to work to be able to juggle working with caring easier.”
In June 2020, the Lib Dem leader introduced a Private Member’s Bill to give unpaid carers more rights to flexible working.
He added: “If you talk to local authorities and those within health and social care, it’s clear that if we’re going to make sure that our loved ones get the care they need, and don’t just rely on their closest loved one, we’ve got to have a dramatic shift in how we think about social care.”
Featured image credit: The Liberal Democrats