This Commons Library briefing looks at Carer's Allowance - a non-contributory, non-means-tested benefit paid to people who care full-time for someone who is severely disabled. It covers the background to the benefit and issues frequently raised by people claiming it, including the level of the benefit, its interaction with other benefits including the Retirement Pension, and the difficulties recipients face when seeking to combine their caring duties with paid work or studying. Reforms to Carer's Allowance have been discussed, but there have been no significant changes to the benefit in recent years, and Carer's Allowance will remain a separate benefit under the Universal Credit system. Responsibility for Carer's Allowance and related disability benefits is now devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government has introduced a Carer's Allowance Supplement, and Carer's Allowance in Scotland will be replaced by a new benefit - Carer's Assistance - starting from winter 2021.Jump to full report >>
Carer’s Allowance – formerly known as Invalid Care Allowance – was introduced in 1976. It followed the 1974 White Paper Social Security Provision for Chronically Sick and Disabled People which stated that there was “a strong case for the provision of a non-contributory benefit of right” to be payable to carers of sick and disabled people.
Carer’s Allowance is, formally, an “income replacement” benefit. It is intended to provide a measure of income-maintenance for people unable to do full-time paid work because of their caring responsibilities. It is not a payment for care provided or a “carer’s wage”.
Entitlement to Carer’s Allowance also acts as a “passport” to the carer premiums/additions in means-tested benefits such as Income Support, Pension Credit and Housing Benefit.
To be entitled to Carer’s Allowance, a person must be providing at least 35 hours of care a week for someone in receipt of a qualifying disability benefit, not be in full-time education, and, if in paid work, have earnings after certain deductions of no more than £123 a week.
The qualifying disability benefits are:
At February 2019 there were over 868,000 recipients of Carer's Allowance in Great Britain. Total expenditure on Carer's allowance in 2019-20 is forecast to be £2.98 billion.
Issues frequently raised in relation to Carer’s Allowance in recent years include the fact that Carer’s Allowance cannot be paid in addition to the Retirement Pension (and certain other benefits), and the amount of benefit payable in comparison with other income replacement benefits. The difficulties carers face combining their caring duties with paid work or studying are also a frequent source of complaint.
Debate on these issues often takes place within the context of the wider issue of whether Carer’s Allowance should remain an income replacement benefit, or whether it should be intended to cover additional costs that carers incur.
The previous Labour Government gave an undertaking to consider reform of carers’ benefits – including Carer’s Allowance – as part of its wider welfare reform programme, but did not put forward any proposals by the time of the 2010 General Election.
No significant changes have been made to Carer's Allowance by UK Governments since 2010. Means-tested support for carers of working age will be subsumed within Universal Credit, but Carer’s Allowance will remain a separate benefit. Universal Credit claimants who satisfy the conditions for Carer’s Allowance will not be expected to look for work or undertake any work-related activities to receive UC.
With effect from 7 November 2016 all claimants entitled to Carer’s Allowance have been exempt from the household Benefit Cap.
The Scotland Act 2016 devolved responsibility for Carer's Allowance and related disability benefits to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government has introduced a Carer's Allowance Supplement, and Carer's Allowance in Scotland will be replaced by a new benefit - Carer's Assistance - starting from winter 2021
Further information on the number of people providing unpaid care in the UK and their contribution, on carers' incomes, health and wellbeing, and on Government policy towards carers more generally can be found in Commons Library briefing CBP-7756, Carers, 12 June 2019.
Commons Briefing papers SN00846
Author: Steven Kennedy