By Leo Hornak
A Southwark charity criticized the council’s approach to carers for elderly or disabled, saying it encourages a ‘fuel poverty trap’. This week Southwark Carers contacted every councilor about challenges they face in the coming winter, as part of their “Making the Most of Your Money” campaign, launched this month.
Southwark Carers provides assistance to people looking after disabled or infirm friends and family members. Spokesperson Lousie Holden said that lack of action by the council had left many households in danger as Christmas approaches. “People are really worried about this winter,” Ms Holden explained, saying: “Many of our clients are asking themselves ‘can I afford to even heat my home?”
She said a 60-year-old man caring for an 80-year-old woman is struggling to afford heating bills. “They have been passed from person to person, but no one is helping. At the end of the day, their needs are not being met.”
There are 28,000 carers in Southwark, and their unpaid work is estimated to save the council £291.6 million a year in healthcare costs. Nevertheless, many struggle to access support they are entitled to. Carer’s Allowance is set at just £50.50 per week, less than Job Seekers’ Allowance, even though many carers are providing a full time service to vulnerable people.
Ms Holden also criticized the bureaucracy and complexity involved in getting help from the council. “People phone a call centre, get passed from person to person, no one gets back to them…appointments are made, no one turns up. Having to deal with this bureaucracy can push people over the edge.”
The Labour government has frequently expressed its concern over the plight of carers across the country. Last year, secretary of state for work and pensions, Peter Hain, raised the ceiling for eligibility for Carers Allowance, allowing many carers to continue working part-time while still receiving the allowance. At the time, he described carers as playing ‘a vital role in our communities, providing invaluable help and support for their loved ones.’
Southwark Carers “‘Making the Most of Your Money” campaign will last until March. A briefing pack for carers can be downloaded from their website. http://www.southwarkcarers.org.uk/