Currently, the Government is planning to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions in line with the state pension age of 66. If these changes were to go ahead, around 2.4 million people between the ages of 60 to 65 will be forced to begin paying for their prescriptions from the NHS. Many organisations and charities, including Age UK, are warning that unpaid carers may end up forgoing their own medication as they will not be able to afford the extra cost. According to Age UK, almost one in four people between the ages of 60 to 65 in the UK are carers for a loved one.
This equates to 860,000 people, which is less than the one in 10 of whom receive any financial assistance via Carer’s Allowance.
Some 56 percent of unpaid carers in this age group have given up employment or part-time work to focus on their pastoral duties.
Through its ‘Bitter Pill to Swallow’ campaign, the charity is lobbying to stop the Government’s plan to scrap free NHS prescriptions for this age demographic.
The charity cites that the Government will save more money by keeping the free prescriptions for pensioners and unpaid carers as they will lose money down the line if people stop taking their medication if they no longer can afford it.
Age UK asserts that continuing with this course of action would be a “kick in the teeth” for pensioners, as well as their unpaid carers who are looking after them.
One woman told Age UK: “As an unpaid carer whose only source of income is Carer’s Allowance, I need free prescriptions.
“I won’t be able to afford my prescriptions if I have to pay for them, meaning my own health will deteriorate and I won’t be able to continue with my caring role.”
Another woman, named Debbie, added: “I’ve had to take an early retirement on a reduced pension to care for my husband who has dementia.
“Money is tight – It feels discriminatory as the more medical conditions you have, the harder you’ll be hit.”
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, outlined why she believes the Government’s current position is far removed from the reality of many unpaid carers.
Ms Abrahams said: “Earlier this week the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid MP, called on families to do more to help their loved ones, seemingly unaware that his own Department is considering a policy change which, if implemented, will hit many thousands of brilliant carers in their early and mid-sixties really hard.
“It’s a juxtaposition that makes no sense at all and a real kick in the teeth for older carers.
“Mr Javid is new to the job so may not yet realise that a massive one in four of all 60 to 65 year olds is a carer, often for an ageing parent, sometimes for a partner or a sick or disabled adult child.
“The Government cannot have it both ways: if it is serious about valuing carers – people who sacrifice so much and who save the country billions a year as a result – it should shelve the idea of making any 60-65 year old who is not exempt pay for their prescriptions, after many years of them being free.
“There is ample evidence showing that older carers often struggle with their own health problems, so making them start paying for their medication simply risks them becoming even less fit and well.
“When a carer’s health breaks down and they are unable to continue to care then this is not only bad news for them and their loved one, it piles extra pressure on our beleaguered health and care system too.
“So why is the Department of Health and Social Care considering adopting a policy that makes carer breakdown more likely, and at a time when we are not yet out of the woods of the pandemic?
“Fortunately it’s not too late for the Government to change its mind. We are urging the Secretary of State to drop a bad idea which flies in the face of other Government priorities, one which was developed before he joined the Department.”
As of today, free NHS prescriptions are available to all residents living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Age UK hopes to push the Government in the coming weeks to drop its proposal to raise the qualifying age for free prescriptions to the state pension age.