We share the Government’s vision for the Big Society. No honestly, we do. Grandparents and the wider family are at the vanguard of that society. So if we get it wrong for them, we’re in trouble and the Government’s flagship policy won’t get off the ground.
Despite recent progress such as the Grandparent NI Credit for the state pension, and a commitment from government of greater recognition for grandparent carers, those who are raising their grandchildren are set to be penalised by a toxic combination of welfare reforms and spending cuts.
We’re bringing 200 of them to Parliament today to make their voices heard and to launch a new survey and campaign, ‘What if we said no?’ We’re grateful to the TUC and others in the trade union movement for their support.
There are 200,000 family and friends carers, most of whom are grandparents, who are raising 300,000 children who can no longer live with their parents. Over 8 out of 10 of these carers are under 65, 4 in 10 are under 55. Over half give up work or reduce their paid hours when they take on the care of a child. 4 out of 10 are raising their grandchildren alone. Using the government’s own figures, this care is worth £12 billion each year.
Benefit changes such as the proposal to cut housing benefit by 10% after a year out of work will hit grandparent carers hard because when they give up work they find it hard to get back. If your daughter has overdosed on heroin, or died of cancer, and you step in to bring up your grandchildren, picking up the pieces of their lives, you are not going to be best-placed to find a job. In fact we hear of cases where grandparents are actively encouraged by social workers to give up work, or see their grandchildren taken into care. So one arm of the state pushes them out of work while the other penalises them for leaving it.
Surely a better solution would be to give them paid leave, similar to adoption leave, so that they could have a job to go back to? And the caring role takes it toll. 6 out of 10 carers have a chronic health condition or disability such as arthritis, high blood pressure, anxiety or depression
It’s not only welfare reform – cuts in local authority budgets will mean that the ‘lucky’ 1 in 3 who receive discretionary local authority support will probably see that taken away as hard-pressed children’s services focus their resources on meeting their statutory obligations. But this will be a false economy as reducing support for family and friends carers will push some of these families to breaking point and the end result will be more children in the care system – at great cost to the tax payer.
The survey we are publishing today also shows that these grandparents were like any other grandparent before a crisis in their family’s lives and they had to step in to pick up the pieces. It could happen to anyone. Now, if Big Society means anything, that’s it. Instead of penalising them we should ensure they are recognised, valued and supported.
GUEST POST: Sam Smethers is Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus. She was previously Director of Public Affairs of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and a former trustee of the Fawcett Society and Gingerbread. She has three children and was brought up by her grandparents.
Grandparents Plus is the national charity championing the vital role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives – especially when they take on the caring role in difficult family circumstances. They want to see the grandparental role better recognised and rewarded and the private sector, public services and employers recognising and responding to the growing contribution grandparents are making.