An Open Letter to the Department of Work and Pensions

So in summary:

I cared full time for my dying mother for 3 months, while taking time out of university to do so. I apply for carer’s allowance, and am denied it, because I am a student, and am classes as doing 21 hours of SUPERVISED study per week, despite taking an official interruption from the university, for a year. The system is broken, not only for me, but for every stressed out informal carer who is trying to prop up a family member, and who is unable to work. There is not enough support there. Here is my open letter to the people who are meant to look after the vulnerable.


Dear Sir/Madam,

 

You have decided that I am not eligible for Carer’s Allowance (CA) because I was in full-time education, despite the fact that I have taken a full year’s interruption from my course to care full time for my dying mother.

The law states:

 

“5.—(1) For the purposes of 3 section 70(3) of the Contributions and Benefits Act, a person shall be treated as receiving full-time education for any period during which he attends a course of education at a university, college, school or other educational establishment for twenty-one hours or more a week. (2) In calculating the hours of attendance under paragraph (1) of this regulation– (a) there shall be included the time spent receiving instruction or tuition, undertaking supervised study, examination or practical work or taking part in any exercise, experiment or project for which provision is made in the curriculum of the course; and (b) there shall be excluded any time occupied by meal breaks or spent on unsupervised study, whether undertaken on or off the premises of the educational establishment. (3) In determining the duration of a period of full-time education under paragraph (1) of this regulation, a person who has started on a course of education shall be treated as attending it for the usual number of hours per week throughout any vacation or any temporary interruption of his attendance until the end of the course or such earlier date as he abandons it or is dismissed from it.” [1],

“In determining the duration of a period of full-time education under paragraph (1) of this regulation, a person who has started on a course of education shall be treated as attending it for the usual number of hours per week throughout any vacation or any temporary interruption of his attendance until the end of the course or such earlier date as he abandons it or is dismissed from it” [2].

 

The University states the following regarding periods of interruption:

 

“During your period of interruption you will not be a registered student of the University and your right to be on University premises will be that of a member of the public. You may not undertake work on University premises as you are not covered by our insurance arrangements. You should note also that you will lose onsite IT and student library access…” [3].

 

I will also add that the University does not charge tuition fees over this period, nor does student finance provide support. The University does not acknowledge me as a student over this period, and even if it had done I was still living 3 hours away. I have no access to their resources; it would be literally impossible for me to undertake supervised study at this time; how the hell do you expect me to rack up 21 hours a week?

It is clear to me that those in charge of the distribution of CA have no experience in informal care themselves, as they would otherwise know that full time care is too intensive to allow for luxuries such as further education.

My mother and I were lucky, as we were in a situation where my 19 year old sister had a job that just about supported us, along with what was left of my mother’s finances (not a lot, as she’d given up work over a year ago). We had friends and family that offered a support network, but I am sure that there are many people who are not that lucky.

Given that my MP, Dr Liam Fox has written to you on my behalf, and given that you remained resolute in your, as Dr Fox said, “inconsistencies”, I have resigned myself to the belief that you will never provide myself and my sister with the financial support that we are entitled to.

It seems a farce when I consider that, if I had dropped out of education completely, you would have given me benefits. It’s a funny reward system you have.

 

Whilst I’m at it, I thought I should just highlight some of the other implications of being an informal carer:

 

PERSONAL LOSS OF WORK

Let’s assume that I had not decided to care for my mother, and that I completed my degree over this year, as planned. According to the institute of physics, “[graduate] respondents with MPhys/MSci degrees had an average salary of £23,300” [4], so let’s assume that I would have gone into work by September 2015; that’s a year of income that I have lost. Also, it reduces the number of years I will work in my lifetime, and so I will have lost more than £23,300, as I will be losing my final year of salary, which we can expect to be higher.

Funnily enough, that could have been the money that I rely on for my own care when I am retired.

I’ll add that student finance have also decided they want ~£700 back, because I wasn’t at university this year. So my absence from university alone has already economically screwed me.

 

ECONOMIC

“Carers save the economy an estimated £119 billion per year with the unpaid care they provide, an average of £18,473 per carer.”[5]

 

Let’s go over how much money the government saved because I cared for my mother. The money advice service estimates a cost of £11,000 a year for 14 hours a week [6]; let’s assume my mother needed 4 home visits a day over the last 3 months – that comes to £5,500. That’s not including any care that she would have needed whilst my sister was supporting her, and before I started full time care.

Now if we estimate the cost of my continuous day and night care using the same source, over the last three months, I am owed £37,500.

If we (however unrealistically), assume that I sleep for 8 hours a day, carer’s allowance would amount to £0.54 an hour. Even assuming the minimum of 35 hours per week, it works out at £1.75 an hour. That’s 37% of the minimum wage. To top it all off, DWP, you are still refusing to even pay me the grand total of £736.20.

 

HEALTH

And finally, let’s have a brief look at the impact caring has on health.

 

“People providing high levels of care are twice as likely to be permanently sick or disabled, and 625,000 people have health problems because of their caring responsibilities.”[7]

 

Here are just the symptoms of Caregiver Stress, and Caregiver Burnout respectively[8]:

 

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Feeling tired and run down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances
  • New or worsening health problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling increasingly resentful
  • Drinking, smoking, or eating more
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Cutting back on leisure activities

 

  • You have much less energy than you once had
  • It seems like you catch every cold or flu that’s going around
  • You’re constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • You neglect your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
  • Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
  • You have trouble relaxing, even when help is available
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
  • You feel helpless and hopeless

 

I hope that you appreciate the I am writing this letter to highlight a serious problem with the legalities that define who is entitled to your support, as well as the more general failings of the existing system, and the penalisation of those who are trying to do the right thing. The DWP does extremely important work; I only wish that it worked better.

Yours faithfully,

[1] Social Security (Invalid Care Allowance) Regulations, regulation 5

[2] Social Security (Contributions and Benefits) Act 1992, section 70(3).

[3] The University of Manchester. Principles in respect of interruptions to an Undergraduate or Postgraduate Taught Programme of Study – Guidance for students. http://documents.manchester.ac.uk/display.aspx?DocID=4780  (accessed 29/01/15)

[4] http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2012/file_55924.pdf

[5] http://www.employersforcarers.org/news/item/936-carers-uk-responds-to-rise-in-allowance-threshold-for-carers

[6] https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/care-home-or-home-care

[7] https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/helping-carers-to-stay-healthy

[8] http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/caregiving-stress-and-burnout.htm


That was lengthy. Thanks for reading.