‘Carers don’t want cake, they want realistic support’, says campaigning councillor
Each year, Carers Week promotes the work of unpaid millions.
A week on, full-time carer and county councillor Caroline Page wants actions to speak as loudly as words for a “growing army of the forgotten and dispossessed”.
The campaigning councillor for Woodbridge said: “The life of a carer can be unbelievably grim.
“A pat on the back is not realistic support. Not only are they not paid properly, their value to in another role is being lost.
“If you start caring for someone in your 30s, you suddenly go from being a saint to a leach.
“I feel the government doesn’t want to hear the word ‘work’ in the same sentence as ‘carer’.
“Carers don’t give a damn about credit or cake – bankers’ bonuses don’t get paid in cake.”
Ms Page, spokesperson for women in the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said the life of a carer can be particularly difficult for women.
“A man has to reach 75 before the odds of becoming a carer are the same,” she added.
“They often don’t live longer than those they care for. If they’re killed off unduly young, they’re of no benefit at all.”
Cordelia Richman is a full-time carer for husband, Rockey, who has bipolar disorder. They left London for the peace of Woodbridge, where the ex-director for Citizens Advice now claims a small income by organising a monthly farmers’ market.
“I’m happy to look after Rockey because I love him and I’m in the best position to do so,” she said.
“I find the loss of professional identity hard, and sometimes feel swamped by the daily grind.
“I try to be patient and understanding about Rockey’s condition, but it can be taxing.
“More money and recognition would help, and so would a better resourced, better trained NHS. The integrated delivery team and home treatment team are fantastic, however, and we have been extremely lucky to benefit from their services.”
The county council, which works with Suffolk Family Carers to give training and advice, said it assessed carers’ needs and support, which can include activities and breaks, and a free app for learning modules and support in caring duties.
Support is also given to employers, and GPs to identify and support carers.
Beccy Hopfensperger, head of adult care, said a panel of carers gives out grants to organisations that provide services for carers.”
Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) fights the ‘injustice’ of changes to pensions of women born in the 1950s. Campaigners argue they received inadequate warning of changes passed by the 1995 Pensions Act, which set a schedule for women’s state pension age to rise to 65 – in line with men – by 2020.
In 2011, a decision was made to increase the pension age to 66, and quicken the timetable, so women’s pension age rose to 65 by 2018.
WASPI wants a transitional income deal – with compensation for those already 65.
Karen Sheldon, of west Suffolk’s branch, said: “The government began writing to women affected by the changes a year before the first tranche started to retire.
“Someone in Bury St Edmunds looked after their mother for 17 years. When her mother died, she had to look for work at 62.
“It’s a social injustice. There’s no way a carer, who brought up children and did part-time work, could put enough away to survive.
“While saving the state money, they’re portrayed as heroes – then they’re suddenly villains.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said the decision made more than 20 years ago achieved a “long-overdue move towards gender equality”, and there were no plans to change existing transitional arrangements.
It added: “Women retiring today can still expect to receive the state pension for 25 years on average – several years longer than men.”
Margaret, whose name has been changed by request, took on care of a young relative, born with a disability, soon after her own child left home. She was in her late 50s when the courts placed the relative – now 23 – in her care.
Margaret receives a widow’s pension, while the young man in her care gets a low-level Personal Independence Payment, which does not fund food, clothing, or extra electricity and council tax.
Now 80, and unaffected by pension changes, but still worried for the future, she said: “We’re no longer doing each other any good.
“I wouldn’t abandon him – but here I am, in old age, not knowing what will happen when I croak.
“He’s bright and aware, and I love him to bits, but I’m anxious.
“I have just enough savings to prevent me from receiving extra help – not a penny since he was 17.
“Respite would help, so he got to know people other than me. If carers received a sensible salary, they could arrange that respite.
“Who wants to be dependent on an 80-year-old woman at that age?”
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