Do Croydon’s carers get the help that they need to balance care and work?

By - Thursday 23rd June, 2016

It’s challenging to juggle caring responsibilities and paid work, says Loren Dixon

A series of laws has been passed to strengthen carers’ rights in the work place. The Work and Families Act 2006, and the Equality Act 2010 include the right to ask an employer for flexible working hours and the right to take time off to care for a dependent. In theory this legislation opens up more protection at work and gives those with caring responsibilities a more equal playing field in employment. In practice, though, does this really happen?

A lifetime ago, before I was a carer, I was lucky enough to find employment fairly quickly when I sought it, both during and after further and higher education. That was at a time when jobs were easier to find, there was not so much competition and university education was free. At that time I did not wish to find standard, 9-5 employment: I gravitated towards more unusual hours as these suited my circumstances. This worked well until I became a full time carer: then, much as I loved my job, I could no longer continue. To be honest, I did not discuss or negotiate the hours I would work as a carer (everything was still new to me back then) but neither do I believe that employment regulations took carers into consideration at that time.

Other issues must also be borne in mind. Larger organisations and businesses may cater for the unpredictability that comes with being a carer, but what are the effects on smaller businesses as a result of laws granting us greater flexibility? We must also be aware of the changes in retirement ages for men and women and that we are all living longer. Many will therefore now work for longer, and not by choice, and some of these may be carers.

Last year Croydon Mencap ran a helpful meeting about PIP, but it’s still best to consult with someone who really understands the system when you’re faced with complex form-filling

Then we come to consider the benefits system. The concept of the Welfare State was originally quite simple: everyone paid in for services which would be provided to those in need without charge. In the 1940s, legislation created a safety net for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society.

In the modern world it is far from simple to juggle the role of carer and employee. It is also not always easy to work out which benefits you may be entitled to. I am one of 34,000 people in Croydon with caring responsibilities, providing care for my brother, and when I originally took on this role Disability Living Allowance was not payable for his care for the first six months. When we did apply, my brother was awarded the lower rate of DLA. I felt that something was amiss with this decision as my brother is not fully independent and I discussed this with a friend more up-to-speed than me on the workings of the benefit system. Following advice, I appealed (completing an encyclopedia-sized document) and only then learned that I was in fact entitled to Carer’s Allowance, which you can only claim if the person you care for is in receipt of DLA at the higher or middle rate. Some, but not all, of these benefits are means-tested to the level of the individual who applies.

Like the education system, the benefits system is also subject to constant change, most recently with the introduction of Universal Credit and the PIP (Personal Independence Payment). So far I am hearing slight rumblings of one or two unhappy Croydon carers in regards to PIP. Completing the application documentation is always a Herculean task, then when it is finally processed the decision does not always reflect the needs of the person that you care for. Help has been made available locally, with a meeting about PIP organised last year by Croydon Mencap last year about PIP; whilst it was helpful, it is still best to get help from someone who really understands how the system works when you are faced with such substantial documentation.

No system is perfect and is always a work in progress. Working and caring simultaneously is a precarious undertaking and the goal of new legislation is to enable everyone to work in an environment without extra concerns: this is a step in the right direction. However, we need to look at the bigger picture. Carers in our borough can only continue in paid work when support is available to them financially, emotionally and in practical terms. This is a necessity to allow both them and those for whom they care to function at their best.

Loren Dixon

Loren Dixon

Loren is a full time carer for an adult sibling who is autistic and is a member of a Autism Family/Parent Support Group in Croydon. She also volunteers for the South London Botanical Institute when she has time and has worked in the cultural & heritage sector. After a long spell of not painting and drawing she has returned to it by finding enjoyment in a new medium to her, botanical illustration.

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