Publication - Minutes

Carer Benefits Advisory Group minutes: February 2021

Published: 16 Aug 2021
Date of meeting: 11 Feb 2021
Location: By video conference

Minutes of the meeting of the Carer Benefits Advisory Group, held on 11 February 2021.

Published:
16 Aug 2021
Carer Benefits Advisory Group minutes: February 2021

Attendees and apologies

Chair: Ellen Searle, Carer Benefits and Case Transfer Policy Unit, Scottish Government 

Present: 

  • Fiona Collie – Carers Scotland
  • Eilidh Dickson – Engender 
  • Paul Traynor – Carers Trust 
  • Angela Toal – CPAG 
  • Anne Baldock – One Parent Families Scotland
  • Roisin Connolly – Connecting Carers 
  • Debbie Horne – CAS 
  • Maggie Chiwanza – MECOPP 
  • Shirley Morris – VOCAL 
  • Ellen Searle, Jane Sterry, Andrew Strong, Robin Briggs, Lynn Shaw – Scottish Government Carer Benefits Policy
  • Vana Anastasiadou, Kate Dickenson, Hayley Cross – Scottish Government Analysis
  • Stephen McCabe – Scottish Government Social Security Programme
  • Gavin Rautman, Lisa Lowe – Social Security Scotland

Apologies:

  • Clare Thomas
  • Peggy Winford

Items and actions

Member updates (paper CBAG 2021/1)

Carers Scotland highlighted an upcoming Carers UK campaign called ‘Fairer for Carers’. The organisations are currently working with peers to campaign for a £20 per week increase to carers in receipt of existing benefits, including the UC Carers Premium and Pension Credit. 

Carers Trust highlighted the upcoming ‘Young Carer Action Day’ taking place on 16 March, which has the theme of protecting young carer’s futures. 

Action:

  • officials to coordinate with Carers Trust on the upcoming Young Carer Action Day

Scottish Carer’s Assistance (SCA) consultation (paper CBAG 2021/2)

Officials thanked the group for their contributions to the evidence base for the draft aims so far, which has informed advice on the consultation to the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security.  The aims, which will form the basis of consultation in the spring, are interlinked with the vision and principles of the Carers Strategic Policy Statement.

A note of feedback from members on the draft aims is attached at Annex A.

Some themes which emerged from the discussion included: 

  • ensuring certain groups can be reached to access the consultation and that people can correctly identify their role as a carer
  • BAME carers – there needs to be a commitment to make people aware of their entitlement. Invest more in communicating this to vulnerable groups – this links back to dignity and respect outcomes
  • 'maintain' rather than 'take-up' might be preferred use of language. Need to separate these as unpaid care is as valuable as work and a valuable and valid contribution to society. Employment may also not be the biggest thing carers aspire for - could be a valuable voluntary role which they find fulfilling and helps with their overall wellbeing
  • awareness needed around the eligibility rules as carers may not always be aware of all the rules, e.g. someone becomes a student unware this isn’t allowed and is asked to pay it back.
  • for carers, it's about keeping that they are still valued and recognised, know about the processes, how it will affect the people they care for
  • in terms of carers employment opportunities, need to be mindful that other longer-term aspirations are also met, for example a role within a voluntary capacity or studying. This will ensure that the hard work involved in a caring role is not undermined

Analyst officials provided an overview of the decision-making process  which policy-makers work from to decide on policy changes to be made – in this case, between Carer’s Allowance and its replacement, Scottish Carer’s Assistance.  This would be done through a Multi-Criteria Options Appraisal.  

This would bring together factors such as dignity and respect, equalities, feasibility and Value For Money – which have been used in assessing policy options for other benefits in Scotland – with the aims to create a framework for selecting priorities and options to be taken forward.  This approach allows for stakeholder views to be integral to developing the decision-making process.

Member views were invited on the engagement approach consulting on the aims.

  • national carer organisations would be looking to consult with carers on any events run by officials. Carers are 'surveyed out’ so any innovative ways of encouraging carers to engage with the consultation would be welcomed. 
  • in terms of engagement with BAME carers, there is often a low uptake in CA and interim research highlights this too. MECOPP would be able to support any engagement and ensure accessibility. 
  • targeted social media advertising might also be useful to promote the consultation to carers who use social media. This would also increase responses from harder to reach groups.

Action:

  • officials to feed these points into communication plans, and engage further with carer organisations on details once the communications framework is agreed

Carer's Allowance Supplement evaluation 

Officials provided a short presentation ton Carer’s Allowance Supplement (CAS) evaluation was published shortly before Christmas. This was undertaken to assess the progress towards the short, medium and long-term aims of CAS. Multiple data sources were utilised, including research with experience panels, in-depth interviews with carers and official statistics.

  • the evaluation found that CAS has positive impact on carers overall wellbeing, with the payment providing a ‘lift’ around the time it is paid. Many carers also said the payment made them feel valued in their role. Overall, CAS has impacted positively on carer’s quality of life and acts as a recognition of the societal contribution carers make
  • other suggestions included clearer information being available regarding specific dates the payment was to be made. Many carers said that though the payment was valued, it did not help towards their day-to-day finances
  • these points will feed into the ongoing development of CAS and SCA as officials develop the overall aims. Overall, the evaluation was a useful tool for ongoing policy development and improvement

Action:

  • members to contact officials with any further points relating to the evaluation

What went well, Even Better If...?

Officials asked members for any feedback on how the meetings are run, alongside any suggestions on how things could be done differently in respect of engagement on carer benefits policy. 

  • members said that a lot of carers feel as though their views are heard and taken on board as a result of the meetings
  • engagement with officials has been positive in particularly difficult times. For example, the work undertaken to provide both the CCAS payment and the continuation of emotional support available for carers show that this early engagement between officials and CBAG members has been helpful

Actions as above

  • officials to engage with Engender on forthcoming SCA impact assessments (action from previous meeting) - organisation: SG officials - target date: in advance of publication
  • officials to coordinate with Carers Trust on the upcoming Young Carer Action Day - organisation: SG officials - target date: March 2021
  • officials to engage with carer organisations once the consultation has been launched to organise stakeholder engagement events and correspondence - organisation: SG officials - target date:   March 2021 onwards
  • members to contact officials with any further points relating to the evaluation - organisation: members - target date: March/April 2021

Actions from previous meeting (November 2020)

  • SG officials to feed CBAG discussions into advice to Ministers on the consultation - organisation: SG officials - target date: complete - February 2021
  • SG officials to circulate the draft application form and communications plans for YCG and CAS exportability to members for comments - organisation: SG officials - target date: complete - February 2021

Annex A

Aim 1: Scottish Carer’s Assistance is designed to maximise take-up and improve the carer experience of the social security system

Role of independent advice and advocacy in helping them through the process should be highlighted.

Carers identifying themselves as carers and their awareness of Carer’s Allowance is a real barrier to take up.

Historically, CA has had little input into advertising and raising awareness.

This seems clear - designed in a way to maximise take-up rather than 'to' maximise take-up - could this bit be slightly clearer?

We know what the issues are and are looking at a way to make this a better experience for carers.

People do worry about the effect that CA has on the benefits of the cared for person. That is a valid issue but it will be less of an issue over time

Means of reaching carers through those who apply for disability benefits. Asking them if they have a carer to help raise awareness.

BAME carers - needs to be a commitment where we make people aware of their entitlement. Invest more in communicating this to vulnerable groups – this links back to dignity and respect outcomes.

Take-up strategy - need to ensure we make people aware that they are carers. Need to articulate this as much as possible.

Aim 2: Scottish Carer’s Assistance provides a consistent income so that short term changes to a carer’s role do not affect eligibility

Think this is clear and covers everything it needs to. 

Does it cover all the circumstances, is it meant to? A Covid-19 thing. People are getting the £500 NHS bonus and people are getting CA stopped. Income threshold will mean income fluctuations are an issue.

Care is defined in Young Carer Grant, might be worth highlighting that it exists.

Wording - rather than short-term changes to a carers role, maybe 'short-term changes to a carers circumstances'. This would pick up on employment, hospital, etc. where care is provided in a different way.

Aim 3: Scottish Carer’s Assistance eases the transition into and from the caring role, including through bereavement

Sometimes people can be waiting for a really long time for a disability benefit decision - maybe be clearer that this is backdated much longer if the disability benefit is backdated for a longer period. 

Comments may not bring out what is been covered, some of the wording around the 21 hours full-time working, for example, may not encourage people to answer the question. Maybe separate bereavement, education and employment so a full range of views are captured.

Awareness needed around the eligibility rules as carers may not always be aware of all the rules, e.g. someone becomes a student unware this isn’t allowed and is asked to pay it back.

Can claim CA if on Young Carer Grant but if you’re receiving CA you can’t get Young Carer Grant which isn’t mentioned.

FTE: law talks about FT education as 21 hours or more. But CA case law is that if something is FT, no CA. CA teams do make wrong decision. Don't really need to look at number of hours. Some kind of training schemes it was accepted that this is full time. Generally if full time course you can't get CA.

Something which will help people who are thinking about leaving full time employment to become a carer full time - financial advice and support and what else is there. How does that affect overall support at that they get and services, SDS etc.

Clear except for wording on tribunals and backdated payment info.

Aim 4: Scottish Carer’s Assistance helps to enable those carers who wish to, to take up and maintain employment alongside their caring role

Think this covers the main things and clear what the aim is.

Doesn’t reflect the current cliff edge where being over by any amount means no CA, possibility include example so those who are less aware of the benefit can also feedback.

A lot can depend on the employer and the support on that side whether carer can stay in employment or not.

'Maintain' rather than 'take-up' might be preferred use of language. Need to separate these as unpaid care is as valuable as work and a valuable and valid contribution to society. Employment may also not be the biggest thing carers aspire for - could be a valuable voluntary role which they find fulfilling and helps with their overall wellbeing.

Issue of overpayments - SG process treated as debt rather than benefit recovery process. System should illustrate this and ensure that it takes responsibility, alleviating pressure on carer.

Earnings threshold is based on a historical figure which has not consistently been uprated. Is also based on 16 hours whereas tax credits etc. are based on 15 hours work - need to be mindful of this.

Aim 5: Scottish Carer’s Assistance recognises the role of unpaid carers, and that different caring situations have different impacts

Provides a good recognition of the caring situation - where people lose CA when they get State Pensions.

Multiple caring roles not currently recognised and this is really important.

Is there enough clarity and discussion around how only one person can receive Carer’s Allowance for each cared for person.

Questions over how this will be measured and how this could change over time.

Unpaid care roles save governments huge amount of money, wording of 'mitigate' would acknowledge this impact of what we're trying to do.

Dependency relating to UK benefits makes this difficult, however be mindful that if there are no tweaks, what's the difference going to be between SCA and CA. Risk of embedding inequalities UK system has created.

A ministerial foreword at the start of the consultation to acknowledge the history behind CA implementation could be useful.

Overall impressions

  • currently the questions don’t always lead you to answering the full body of the issue. More direct questions would increase the detail of the feedback we receive. Questions are quite general so might not get the detail you’re looking for. But ensuring that only asking about things that can be changed
  • ensure that it’s clear for those with little experience of the benefit can give full feedback
  • there isn't anything in the consultation about whether people think it should still be an income replacement benefit or not but it does cover a lot of good things so not sure if you want to turn it on its head
  • for carers, it's about keeping that they are still valued and recognised, know about the processes, how it will affect the people they care for
  • if you’re including suggestions include all or none, by using some it could guide the answers to only the issues raised. Don't want them to guide them too narrow so think about framing.
  • like that lower number of questions makes it more accessible
  • overall its positive, succinct and clear which helps accessibility
  • may need something to acknowledge how Carer’s Assistance can help reduce carers poverty and inequality, possible long term aim of the assistance
  • currently worded that Young Carer Grant and Carer’s Additional Child Payment will be standalone benefits, doesn’t invite views on this
  • may need more detail on the interplay with Young Carer Grant, paper doesn’t invite any discussion on how they may interact in future

SRAB recommendations

  • minimum income guarantee as a reflection of the value of the role of unpaid carers
  • would a MIG be on an individual level or would this be at a household level?
  • if it was an amount for an individual that would be good if a partner is working. Otherwise this may limit what they get
  • CA should be treated like any other benefit - there should be a minimum amount of support for carers
  • difficult because it's the only benefit that is reliant on someone else to get a benefit - if that disability benefit stops CA stops too, so is difficult
  • good to think about the bigger questions about whether or not it should be means tested or whether or it should be a different kind of benefit have grappled with it but not a definite viewpoint on this yet
  • 35 hours easy to meet even if people have other things going on in their lives, include nights etc. It is the other things that get in the way, for example the education rule
  • a lot people do work and juggle caring - even if working full time. If the benefit is equated the amount per hour for 35 hours is very little