Forgotten army of carers who need support as cuts hit home
31 October 2010
By Chris Bond
THEY have been dubbed the “forgotten army” of carers.
It’s estimated there are about 200,000 family and friends carers raising 300,000 children in the UK. Many of them are grandparents who, at a time in life when they might be looking forward to retiring, are needed to step in and look after their grand
According to national charity Grandparents Plus it would cost £12bn if these children were in the care system, but despite this it says that many are not receiving the support they need. Not only that, but campaigners fear the looming local authority cuts and welfare reform measures will further undermine their role, resulting in more children ending up in the care system, at great cost to the taxpayer.
Last week, the charity launched a new report What if we said no? highlighting the challenges facing grandparent carers. It said that children living with family and friends carers often come from troubled backgrounds, having experienced parental alcohol or drug misuse,
neglect or domestic violence, or the long-term illness of a parent. The report also found that four out of 10 have problems at school.
Sue Stewart, from Doncaster, is one of the carers who joined a lobby outside Westminster last week. “My husband and I have been the sole carers for our two grandchildren since they were babies and receive no financial support from my local authority.
“We do receive child benefit, but I’m very concerned the recently announced welfare reforms and cuts to local authority children’s services will threaten even that source of income. I know how difficult it is for so many grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren yet receive little or no support.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of Grandparents Plus, says there is a lack of recognition for the vital role grandparents are playing. “We share the Government’s vision for the Big Society, and grandparents are at the forefront of it because society is built on the family. But here are grandparents doing the right thing, picking up the pieces in times of crisis and all too often they take a financial hit and their health suffers as a result.
“Our research shows that before they take on this caring role they are like any other grandparents. But then a family crisis means they have to step in. It could happen to anyone.”
Campaigners want official data on the number of families in this situation and, crucially, for them to be protected from the impact of welfare reform and cuts to local authority children’s services.
“Making these families poorer will push some to breaking point and could result in more children going into the care system. It could
also discourage potential family and friends carers from coming forward to care. This would be neither good for children nor cost-effective,” says Smethers.
Solicitor Nigel Priestley, who has worked on behalf of family and friend carers, believes a shortfall in the number of foster carers means there is added pressure on grandparents.
“Since the Baby P case, the number of care proceedings has risen and there are fewer foster carers which means local authorities are having to increasingly rely on friends and family of children. But with local authority budgets under review there is a real fear that they will choose not to support them as they should,” he says.
“Many grandparents who are carers have had to give up work and use savings to ensure they can look after these children. It’s a massive sacrifice and they do it out of love, but in a lot of cases they need support. It’s not just a financial issue. Grandparents need to feel they have support and can get training because they are saving the state millions of pounds.”