Almost six million of us gladly spend many hours each week giving unpaid care to loved ones who need support – but there’s often a high price to pay, with income sacrificed and a smaller pension.
Each year spent out of work performing unpaid care shrinks pension pots by roughly £5,000 at retirement, while even those who continue to work part-time for three days a week will have £2,000 less, new figures show.
This is a major blow to the nation’s financial wellbeing as two in three take time out to provide unpaid care at some point during their working lifetime.
Raising children is the main reason people take time out of work, followed by looking after parents, a partner or grandparents who need care, and in some cases grandchildren.
Online pension provider PensionBee’s report The Carer’s Pension Gap shows that those in their late 50s and early 60s are most likely to be offering care, at a crucial time when they should be saving flat out in the build-up to retirement.
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While women are more likely to give up work to raise children, male carers pitch in often to look after parents or a partner.
Pensionbee’s director of public affairs, Becky O’Connor, said the UK is a nation of carers, filling the gaps in social care. “It often comes at great personal cost, hitting careers, personal lives and the economy.”
Many are on track for a decent retirement, when suddenly things change after a loved one falls sick, said Aegon’s head of pensions, Kate Smith: “More could be done by employers, such as maintaining their contributions.A flexible workplace could help carers to stay in work longer, with possibly shorter hours.”
Support is coming, as the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 will ensure the estimated two million employees juggling paid employment and caring responsibilities can take up to five days a year of unpaid leave.
Carers UK chief executive Helen Walker said this will make a huge difference to carers’ lives and can help them stay in paid work, with benefits for employers, too. “Those who have already introduced carer’s leave have seen reduced recruitment costs and improved staff retention and wellbeing,” she said.
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Carers must claim all the state support they can, with Carer’s Allowance the main benefit claimed by almost a million.
This pays £76.75 a week if you care for someone at least 35 hours a week, provided they qualify for certain benefits including Personal Independence Payments, Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance.
You do not have to be related to, or live with, the person you care for, but you will not get paid extra if you care for more than one person. If someone else also cares for the same person as you, only one of you can claim Carer’s Allowance.
Those over state pension age may still qualify for Carer’s Allowance, and if on a low income, pension credit too.
Carers can also get National Insurance credits to plug gaps in their state pension contributions, paid automatically to those receiving Carer’s Allowance, Jobseekers’ Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance. Carers should also make sure the people they are looking after are claiming all of their benefits, too.
Charities such as Citizens Advice and Stepchange offer advice on benefits, or visit benefits website Turn2Us.org.uk.
Emma Walker, director at specialist protection broker LifeSearch, said people should take steps to protect themselves by purchasing insurance while they are still well.
“Income protection replaces your earnings if you’re too ill to work, and critical illness pays a lump-sum if you suffer a major illness.These are tax free.”
As the nation grows older and sicker, more of us are likely to become carers.
Two thirds are worried about managing their monthly costs, according to Carers UK and must get all the support they can.
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