Carer's Allowance Supplement - evaluation: qualitative research (annex A)

This report presents findings from qualitative research conducted by Ipsos MORI Scotland as part of the wider evaluation of Carer’s Allowance Supplement

7. Conclusions and implications for policy

Has Carer's Allowance Supplement improved outcomes for carers?

The research provides evidence on the extent to which CAS has had a positive impact on carers' financial wellbeing, quality of life and feelings of recognition.

Financial wellbeing

Carers who were struggling the most financially felt the biggest impact – whether they had spent it on treats or trips away, which they would not have otherwise been able to have, or whether they had spent it on essential household expenses, which they would otherwise have struggled to pay for. Carers who were financially comfortable but had spent it on treats also felt a benefit, as they were unlikely to have had those enjoyable experiences (trips, outings etc.) without the payment. The least impact was felt by carers who had spent it on general household needs but who already had enough money to pay for these things.

Overall, while carers were grateful for the payment and could identify impacts, they tended to say that the payment had not helped their day-to-day finances – they felt they only benefitted during the months that CAS arrived.

Quality of life

Typically, CAS had helped improve carers' mental health and wellbeing a little: it had a positive impact on relieving money worries around the months carers received the payment, and had given them "a wee lift".

More exceptionally, its impact on mental health and wellbeing had been transformative. This was in cases where it had enabled carers in great financial difficulty to pay off debts or where it had been used towards a trip away when carers felt they were close to breaking point.

CAS had generally not had an impact on carers' physical health. However, there were a few examples of it being used to support physical health including buying healthier food, affording more heating in winter, facilitating exercise hobbies, or enabling the purchase of back and knee support items.

There were mixed views on the impact of CAS on carers' sense of control and empowerment. It had made the biggest difference to those struggling most financially by helping them to feel more on top of their finances and prepared for upcoming expenses. Others thought it had made little difference overall.

Feelings of recognition

CAS was not perceived to have raised awareness or the profile of carers among the general public and had not, therefore, made them feel more recognised or valued by society in general.

However, the introduction of CAS had made carers feel a little more recognised and valued by the Scottish Government: it showed the government had thought about them; felt like an acknowledgement and a 'thank you'; and showed their work had value.

The overall impact of the Carer's Allowance Supplement

The experiences of CAS recipients demonstrate that the Supplement has gone some way to meeting its overall aims: to improve outcomes for carers by providing extra financial support and to provide greater recognition of the essential societal contribution that carers make.

The extent of its impact on carers lives has, overall, been relatively modest. The impact that around £450 per annum could reasonably be expected to make, however, should be borne in mind when considering this finding – as should the fact that Social Security is just one aspect of the Government's overall approach to supporting carers. It is also worth bearing in mind that, while caring can be a rewarding and positive experience, it can also be extremely challenging. Even small improvements to carers' quality of life and their sense of being valued and recognised do matter. It was very clear from the research that carers appreciated the payments and thought they should continue. And, although it was a more exceptional experience, the transformative impact that CAS has had for certain carers should not be overlooked.

Implications for policy

While CAS has gone a little way to helping improve carers' quality of life, the findings indicate that more significant improvements would require significantly higher levels of financial support. They also highlight the fact that some of the desired long-term outcomes require different, or at least additional, actions rather than just financial support.

1. Improvements in quality of life and reducing the negative impacts of caring also require increased access to respite care – to give those carers feeling the mental and physical stresses of providing round-the-clock care more frequent and regular breaks and some opportunity to pursue other activities.

2. Providing carers with advice and support on reducing the sense of isolation would also help in this regard. (Taking advantage, perhaps, of some of the initiatives and technological solutions that have been developed across the wider community during the COVID-19 crises).

3. Increasing recognition of the role of carers among the general public will also require a different approach. Suggestions from participants included carers talking more about the role – one said that they should 'open up about it' as people have done more recently with mental health issues – and increased representation on television and in the media.

Beyond the overall level of financial support, the findings point to a further two issues which should be considered in the development of the Scottish replacement for Carer's Allowance.

1. CAS was introduced as a temporary measure and its payment in two lump sums was a relatively simple and pragmatic way of delivering the payments. However, it was clear that carers liked receiving the payment in two lump sums and there was a strong preference for this over including it with the weekly Carer's Allowance payment. They felt it allowed them to spend on bigger expenses – either bigger treats (such as a trip away) or more expensive necessities (such as larger quarterly bills) and they felt they subsequently had more to show for it. They also saw it as something to look forward to. However, there were carers (among those who spent the payments on general, on-going expenses) who would have preferred more regular payments which would help them budget throughout the year. Ideally then, the new system would include an element of individual choice about the structure of payments.

2. The findings suggest that there are issues relating to the conditionality of the current Carer's Allowance benefit. It effectively inhibits more than a small amount of part-time work which would be very beneficial for the wellbeing of some carers who would be able to undertake it. In particular, they felt it would provide a sense of identity outwith the caring role and help reduce their sense of isolation.



Back to top