Invisible heroes: On the frontline with the UK’s army of elderly carers

Elderly carers have expressed their “disgust” at being stripped of an “essential” benefit once they reach pension age and are calling on the Government to recognise their contribution to society – and the economy.

Carers in the UK can be eligible to receive £62.70 per week Carer’s Allowance if they look after somebody else for at least 35 hours per week.

Pensioners ineligible for benefit

However, while there is no upper age limit for claiming Carer’s Allowance, carers are not permitted to receive the full amount of both this and their state pension simultaneously as the two are classed as “overlapping benefits”, the charity Carer’s UK has pointed out.

If a person is receiving Carer’s Allowance when they reach retirement age and their state pension is greater than this amount, then the benefit will be stopped. If their state pension is less than their Carer’s Allowance they can get the difference paid in Carer’s Allowance.

‘I turned 65 the day the letter came’

Colin, 66, lives in Herefordshire with his wife of 42 years, Heather, who has fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body.

The former RAF flight assistant, who asked that his full name not be published, was stunned to be informed that he would no longer receive his Carer’s Allowance when he reached retirement age.

“The day I turned 65 the letter came,” he says.

Heather, who is also 66, is reliant on Colin to do everything for her, from helping her to shower and cutting her toenails, to massaging her legs and administering medicine, as well as cooking, cleaning and taking her to medical appointments.

Taken for granted

But his contribution “taken for granted” by the Government, he says.

“I think it’s disgusting…I worked from 15 to 65 and I’m struggling financially,” he adds.

Money is tight – so much so that even purchasing the appropriate food for Heather (it’s essential that she maintains a healthy weight) is growing increasingly difficult.

The couple, who have three surviving adult children – their son died last year aged 37 – and five grandchildren, are struggling to scrape the money together to buy a reclining chair for Heather – her current one is on its last legs.

‘DWP didn’t want to know’

“[Carers are] saving the Government billions. That £63 a week can make a difference…I rang the DWP [and] they didn’t want to know,” Colin says.

Asked to describe his feelings about being refused Carer’s Allowance he hesitates. “I couldn’t. You couldn’t print it,” he explains.

Colin is one of countless carers up and down the country in this position.

Does anyone care?

“If everyone who was a carer took their partner or child to the local hospital and said, ‘Look after them for 24 hours, this country would stop,” he says.

What’s the solution? It’s simple, Colin says: “Money.” For pensioners like him, £62.70 per week would be a good start. But, he adds: “Nobody wants to know. Nobody cares.”

Another male pensioner, who asked to be known only as David (not his real name), cared full time for his wife for 26 years until she passed away in 2012.

Saving the state a fortune

David’s wife Moira (also a pseudonym), suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis over most of her body and lived with “terrible pain”, though was an “inspiration” to her husband.

“I did get a little help [financially] until I received my pension, then that stopped,” says David.

“It’s damned unfair… you should get your pension and Carer’s Allowance. You’ve paid in and you’re saving the state an absolute fortune by being a fulltime carer.”

No conscience

The couple, who lived together in Cornwall, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the year before Moira died.

David does not expect any praise for the care he gave Moira – “I loved my wife dearly,” he says – but he believes the Government is taking advantage of the huge number of “hidden” workers.

“Everybody in power knows what’s going on,” he says. “If they had any conscience at all they’d correct that anomaly.”

£15bn contribution

Emily Holzhausen, director of policy at Carers UK, said: “Older carers make a huge contribution to our society estimated to be worth £15 billion a year, and those aged over 65 years old are now the fastest growing group of carers.

She added: “Sufficient and sustainable funding for health and care services is urgently needed to give older carers the support they need.

“The Government should also review how the contribution of older carers can be better recognised in the social security system.”

The DWP said in a statement: “Carer’s make a huge contribution to society.

“Carer’s Allowance and State Pension are both designed to replace income and we pay the higher of the two amounts to carers of State Pension age.”