More than half of carers report bleak outlook for 2016 as new law not yet delivering promised improvements to their lives
Carers UK is calling for the Government, local authorities and health bodies to redouble their efforts to support England’s 5.4 million unpaid carers, as new research from the charity reveals how a perfect storm of squeezed public services and financial pressures is pushing carers to the brink .
Carers UK’s State of Caring 2016 report shows that, one year on from the implementation of the Care Act 2014  – designed to improve support for carers – carers in England are still struggling to get the support they need to care well, maintain their own health, balance work and care, and have a life of their own outside of caring.
Carers’ experiences show that the positive rights outlined in the Care Act are not matching up with reality. Growing numbers of carers believe their quality of life will get worse over 2016 (54%), despite the Care Act being in force, compared with expectations last year (50%) before the legislation was introduced .
Under the new legislation, all carers are entitled to a timely assessment of their needs . Yet, shockingly, 1 in 3 carers (29%) who reported having an assessment in the past year had to wait six months or longer for it. More alarming still, over one-third of carers (39%) looking after someone at the end of their life had to wait six months or more for an assessment.
Almost one-quarter of carers (22%) had to request an assessment for themselves over the last year instead of having one offered to them, as the law requires.
Not only are carers facing barriers to getting an assessment, but they told Carers UK that the assessments they have received are, consistently, not fit-for-purpose. Of carers who received an assessment in the past year:
- 2 in 3 (68%) felt their need to have regular breaks from caring was either not considered or not thoroughly considered
- Only 1 in 3 (35%) felt that support to look after their own health was thoroughly considered
- 3 in 4 working age carers (74%) did not feel that the support needed to juggle care with work was sufficiently considered
- 1 in 5 (21%) said they received little or no helpful information or advice, and felt they didn’t know where to go for support with caring
- Carers UK’s research shows that carers continue to see negative impacts on their finances, with 48% of those caring 35 hours or more struggling to make ends meet. Half of carers responding to the survey (49%) have left work to care, with a further quarter (23%) reducing their hours.
The Census shows that those providing 50 hours or more care a week are twice as likely to be in poor health as non-carers . Yet 1 in 5 (20%) carers providing 50 hours or more support a week are receiving no support whatsoever with their caring role.
These findings are particularly stark in the wider context of reducing support services and changes to social security. Carers UK’s survey revealed further evidence that a reduction in public services  is hitting carers and their families hard. 1 in 3 carers (34%) reported a change in the amount of care and support services they or the person they care for receive. Of these, over half (59%) saw a reduction in care and support services due to cost or availability; this includes 13% who said a service was closed with no replacement offered.
Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
“The Care Act is a powerful piece of legislation, for the very first time giving carers the same right to support as the person they look after. But one year on from the Care Act coming into force and carers’ lives have not improved – in fact, compared with last year, more carers believe their quality of life will get worse in the next year.
“If the Care Act is to deliver on its promise to improve support for carers, the Government must set-out a clear expectation of when carer’s assessments should be carried out, alongside investment in the care and support services that are desperately needed to backup families.
“Caring is not an issue that we, as a society, can afford to ignore. After all, caring will touch each and every one of our lives – whether we provide care for a loved one or need care ourselves. With this in mind, the Government’s new Carers’ Strategy, which is currently being developed, is a vital opportunity to ensure caring, and the issues that matter most to carers, are at the heart of policies, programmes and legislation across Government.”
Carers UK believes that immediate practical action on the following is needed to make a difference to carers’ lives:
- Government setting-out clear expectations on the timing of carer’s assessments
- Local authorities reviewing their practices to support carers, including waiting times for assessments and how information and advice can reach carers earlier
- Many more local authorities and employers working with organisations like Employers for Carers to boost workplace support for carers to remain in and return to work
- The NHS building on existing policies that support carers by introducing carer passports  in every hospital and ensuring GP practices are identifying carers and giving them the support and advice they need to improve their quality of life.
A copy of the report can be downloaded from the Carers UK website: www.carersuk.org/stateofcaring2016.