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

Annex B - Pen portraits

The following pen portraits of four carers are designed to provide a richer picture of some carers lives and their experiences of CAS. They have been selected to show a range of different impacts and should not be seen as representative. Names and some personal details have been amended to ensure anonymity.

Louise's experience of CAS

Louise is 35 and lives in the Borders with her husband and four children. She cares full-time for her husband. She often has to attend to him during the night and then has to get up at 6am to get the children ready for school. She takes her husband to frequent medical appointments during the day, does housework and then looks after the children when they get home from school. "It's hard and exhausting". Her mother lives nearby and has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) but Louise is not able to help her as much as she would like to. She has not been able to go to the local Carer's Group because she would need someone to look after the children.

She frequently feels stressed and anxious about her husband's worsening health. However, she said she rarely worries about money. Although their income dropped dramatically when her husband had to give up work and she gave up work to care for him, she says she is very "frugal" and they therefore "get by alright".

Louise spent the June 2019 CAS payment on a new washing machine. If she hadn't received the payment, she said she would probably have just got the old washing machine repaired – even though she knew repairing it would be more expensive in the long run than replacing it.

She spend the December 2019 payment on Christmas presents for the children and on getting her hair done. She was very rarely able to get her hair done but her husband had suggested she did that, saying "you go and treat yourself." Without the payment, she would still have bought the same Christmas presents but would have been a little more worried about money that month. She wouldn't have gone to the hairdressers.

The impact of CAS on Louise's financial wellbeing and quality of life seemed fairly limited and short-lived (in part because she tends not to worry too much about money), but it did make her feel more valued by the government:

"[CAS] helped a bit, yeah…not that it makes things easier, but nice for them to appreciate… just seems like a little 'thank you' compared to the weekly payment. […] They've recognised what we're doing and that's the biggest thing."

There was something about the surprise and unexpectedness of CAS, and the fact that carers don't have to apply for it, that meant she appreciated it more than Carer's Allowance.

John's experience of CAS

John is 64 and lives on Harris with his wife and three youngest children, 17, 15 and 12. He cares full-time for both his wife who has multiple health conditions and his 17 year old daughter, who is physically disabled. As well as looking after his wife and daughter, he also supports his eldest daughter, 21, who lives separately but has ASD. He has been receiving Carer's Allowance for 17 years.

"CAS has been a blessing – a real lifesaver in darker moments [when suffering from depression]…It's made a real difference when changing over to Universal Credit."

John was unable to complete his MSc in Computer Science because of his caring responsibilities, which caused him worry about his future career prospects. He has also suffered from severe depression in recent years.

He has found the CAS a huge help – it has made a transformational difference to his life. It has enabled him to afford fresh food including fruit and vegetables, despite the high prices of these in his local shops. This means he can cook with fresh ingredients for his family and does not have to travel for three hours by bus to use a food bank.

"It has really made a difference and provided an element of [financial] security."

CAS has also helped towards preserving both his physical and mental wellbeing as it helped him afford a running technique consultation with a coach – a hobby which provides valuable respite and he finds crucial to his mental health.

John finds the twice-year payments work particularly well for him, as they enable CAS to be used towards bigger household bills.

"Having a lump sum that you notice is really good. Especially if you have a bill come in and are desperate."

He feels that carers are not widely recognised by society. In the past his neighbours have told him to "get a job".

However, he thinks carers are more recognised by authorities generally and that CAS has made him feel more recognised by the Scottish Government.

Jane's experience of CAS

Jane is 51 years old and lives in Stirling. She cares for her teenage son, Sean, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair. Sean needs lots of support, and Jane cares for Sean whenever he is not in school. Jane and her husband both work, but they still worry about money. Becoming a carer affected Jane's finances significantly – she had been working full-time before her son was born, and she says that becoming a carer has meant dropping to less than half her old salary, while her expenses are slightly higher than before. Jane's caring responsibilities have also affected her health, as using a hoist to lift her son up makes her back hurt.

She was glad that CAS was introduced, but although she said her family lived "hand to mouth", she felt that the Supplement had only a very small impact – the debt they had was still there, and the Supplement hadn't changed their ongoing money difficulties. She couldn't remember how exactly they had spent it- she guessed that it probably went towards credit card bills or household supplies. She thought maybe it had allowed them to bulk buy higher quality personal care products for her son, but she wasn't sure. She said that she almost forgets that the Supplement is coming because it's so infrequent and she doesn't feel confident it'll continue indefinitely.

"If you do break it down, you know, £10 a week really probably is what it equates to, it's neither here nor there, it's really not."

She doesn't feel that the work of carers is widely recognised – she thinks that people just see their child in a wheelchair and don't realise the amount of work and personal care that is required behind the scenes. She also noted that some people mistakenly think "the government just throws money at you" if you are a carer. She stressed the amount of work she does as a carer, as well as the amount of money carers save the government by providing unpaid care. She felt the Supplement was a "nice wee bonus" but compared to the work they do and the hours they put in, it did not come close to fair compensation. She had calculated that Carer's Allowance worked out to nowhere near minimum wage and said the low earnings limit (to still qualify for Carer's Allowance) caused extra difficulty. She sometimes felt forgotten, and if CAS had any impact at all on her life as a carer it was a very small one, and purely financial.

"…it's nice to get a small bonus but I don't really know if £500 or £450 a year actually makes you feel any more valued, I would have said not, probably no."

Cheryl's experience of CAS

Cheryl is 49 and lives in Dundee with her adult daughter and her daughter's children (aged 13 and 4). She cares full-time for her daughter who has severe mental health problems. She has been on Carer's Allowance for around 5 years. As well as looking after her daughter, including sorting out her medications and looking after her finances, she helps a great deal with the grandchildren. She also has elderly parents nearby and helps them when she can.

"The way my life has been for the last few years has just been hell, just hectic, you're just running about like a headless chicken. It's just constant, just constant stress, let's put it that way, just constantly. You don't get a day off or anything, it's just absolute non-stop."

Cheryl used to work full-time as receptionist but had to give up work when her daughter's mental health problems worsened. She has found the loss of a full-time wage very difficult. She says she worries constantly about money and feels "either just above water or just under water." She has built up some debts from spending a bit more than she could afford when she was working. She sometimes has to get loan from her brother.

She described CAS as a "massive relief." She has spent all the payments on household bills, food and on bringing down her debt a little. When asked what she would have done without the payments, she said would have had to delay paying some of her bills and repay less of her debt.

The payment has had notable impact on her finances and mental wellbeing but it seemed that the impact was largely in the two months that it was paid: "You feel more positive and upbeat that month – just a relief." She would prefer the payments were spread out rather than paid in two lump sums because this would enable her to budget better. "I could work it out better if I got it every week."

Cheryl does not think the general public understand what carers do and CAS has made no difference to this. But she does think that the Government are "starting to realise what it's like and what people are going through so they are stepping up and really helping - I'm so grateful they are thinking about us."

Summing up the impact of CAS, Cheryl said "It's been a great help – one less thing [to worry about] in the chaos we're all in. Money's not everything, but if you're struggling every week it's a great, great help."



Back to top