This presentation is based on a PhD research which has analysed the extent to which the informal care of older people is recognised and treated as a social risk in England. The majority of dependent older people in England rely on informal care to meet their care needs. For many informal carers the activity of providing care to their family members and friends can place them at risk of experiencing financial poverty and welfare loss (including poor health, injuries, time poverty). It is important therefore that informal carers have access to support from the state in order to protect them against the care-related risks which they face.
The study undertakes an analysis of all the current policy mechanisms in England which provide support to informal carers and the older people they care for. This includes cash benefits and care services, as well as employment-related support from Jobcentre Plus and statutory rights relating to care leave and flexible working for those carers attempting to reconcile their work and caring roles. It sets out to assess whether these policies offer equal levels of statutory protection to all informal carers against the care-related risks they face. This requires institutional factors such as the design of eligibility criteria and institutional processes, and inter-personal factors including the discretionary decision-making of practitioners to be taken into account.
Methodology involved constructing a policy simulation tool containing thirteen care relationship types and testing what each of the informal carers and older people within each care relationship would be entitled to access in the form of statutory support. The data collection involved conducting semi-structured interviews with practitioners and managers from a range of public sector and third sector agencies across two localities in England.
Findings reveal that inequalities exist in the level of statutory protection provided to different types of care relationships. For while certain types of informal carers are recognised by the state and are provided with protection against the poverty and welfare risks which they face, others are ignored and their risks remain privatised.
The analysis also reveals the overarching weakness of informal carers’ statutory entitlements and their marginalised position within many institutional processes which are primarily designed to meet the needs of other groups of risk bearers. Consequently it is argued that informal care is only partially recognised as a social risk in England. Overall the English care policy environment is characterised as being complex, fragmented, inconsistent, and adversarial in nature. More systematically designed policies involving a more carer friendly and carer focused approach is required if all carers are to be more adequately supported in their caring role by the state.