The 5.4 million people in England who provide unpaid care for a disabled, older or seriously-ill loved one save the State £96.5bn every year; close to the total amount spent annually on running the NHS. Without carers, the NHS would collapse. Yet the health service is penalising the very people who are propping it up by charging anywhere between an average of £11-£131.50 per week in parking charges when their loved ones go in to hospital.
Car parking charges can add to the financial hardship that many of the country’s carers already face. When people take on a caring role, they often face a steep drop in income if they have to leave work or reduce their hours to care; this is then coupled with a steep rise in expenditure as a result of the additional costs of caring and disability. Almost half of carers (48%) who responded to Carers UK’s annual State of Caring survey struggle to make ends meet and of these carers, almost 1 in 3 (30%) have had to use their savings to survive.
Jackie Puddifoot is one such carer who had to use her savings to cover the cost of hospital parking charges when her husband, David, had a long spell in hospital last year. Jackie cares full-time for David who has secondary progressive MS and hairy cell leukemia. Jackie says:
Almost 6 in 10 (59%) carers in England say that their local hospital is not carer-friendly, as it fails to recognise and support them in their caring role. Of those carers who believe their hospital is the least carer-friendly service in their community, 7 in 10 (74%) said it made it more difficult to look after the person they care for, 6 in 10 (60%) said it had a negative impact on their physical or mental health and 1 in 3 (33%) said it had a negative financial impact.
Carer Ann Brosnan wants to see hospitals do more to support and recognise carers. Ann cares full-time for her 93-year-old mother, Joyce, who has dementia. Ann says:
The Park the Charges for Carers campaign aims to drive public and political support for Julie Cooper MP’s Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill 2015-16. Should the Bill be successful, it will place a duty on health authorities to exempt the 1.1 million carers who are currently in receipt of, or who are eligible for, Carer’s Allowance from paying car parking charges in hospitals in England.
Ahead of the Bill’s Second Reading in the House of Commons on Friday 30 October, the campaign has already achieved significant backing from over 1,000 carers and cross-party political support.
Julie Cooper, Labour MP for Burnley, says:
“With the huge demographic and financial challenges facing the NHS, it has never been more important to support carers. That is why I have put forward this Bill, urging politicians and health bosses alike to listen to what carers are telling them and park the charges for carers.”
Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
“Free hospital car parking is just one of the many ways that hospitals in England can better support carers. This issue is incredibly important to carers, without whom the health service would collapse. With the public’s support and backing from cross-party MPs, we can make a meaningful difference to the lives of carers and their loved ones.”
Whilst the majority of hospitals in England do not provide concessions or free parking for carers, some hospitals are putting carers first. Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust introduced a free parking scheme for carers in 2012, where carers could display a Carers Card in their car window in lieu of a parking ticket.
To find out more or to pledge your support for the Park the Charges for Carers campaign, visit www.carersuk.org/search/hospital-car-parking