Government could help fill pension gap of UK carers

Government could help fill pension gap of UK carers

People who give up full-time employment to become carers need to be given more support with pension contributions, Steve Webb has said. 

The director of policy at Royal London said it was important for government, employers and advisers to do more to help the growing army of carers in the UK, especially when it comes to lost pension contributions.

Mr Webb said if the carer has given up work just at the point where he or she would naturally be ramping up their pension contributions in a workplace scheme, then they may "never be able to build up a decent pension pot".

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"Carers play a vital role in our society, especially as the number of older people continues to rise", he said.

"But all too often carers lose out when it comes to pensions and work. While there are state protections for carers, they may lose out when it comes to missing out on workplace pensions.

"There is a case to look at whether the government could make a contribution to private pensions when someone is off work because of caring responsibilities."

With state pensions, the government does make allowances for carers. While 35 years of contributions - or credits - will provide the full flat rate of £8,000 a year when they retire, there are automatic national insurance (NI) credits available for those people drawing carer's allowance. 

There are also credits for those doing 20 hours or more for someone disabled, while those caring for a grandchild can also benefit from 'specified adult childcare credit', by which the mother can sign over the NI credits she gets by dint of receiving child benefits and pass these instead to the grandparent.

However, there is not anything commensurate for those giving up a workplace or private pension. Mr Webb commented: "The same logic that leads the government to give NI credits for carers on the state pension should lead to some sort of credit for carers in their private pension.

"In some sense, you could say the government is now the employer of someone who receives carer's allowance, and so should pay a 3 per cent contribution as per automatic enrolment."

He said there was also a case to make for employers to keep in touch with carers, so they do not find it too hard to get back into paid employment after a long period away from the workplace.

Mr Webb added that financial advisers needed to help clients claim all the help they are entitled to in terms of allowances, as well as giving clients a "realistic understanding" of the implications of giving up work to care for a loved one.

According to the 2011 census, there were 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK, some 3 million of whom have had to reduce their working hours to care for their loved ones. A further 2 million have given up employment altogether at some point to care for family or friends with long-term illness, disability or problems related to old age.