Specifically, Age UK is sounding the alarm that unpaid carers, many of whom are over the age of 60, will be hurt by the policy change. Recent Government proposals plan to align access to free prescriptions with the state pension of 66. As a result of this, many people who would have been eligible for free medication once they turned 60 would have to wait even longer for the “freebie” benefit.
According to Age UK, one in four people between the ages of 60 to 65 are unpaid carers for a loved one, which comes to around 860,000 people.
Less than one in ten of unpaid carers in this age demographic receive crucial benefits support which they may be entitled to, such as Carer’s Allowance.
Furthermore, some 56 percent of this group who are not in paid employment will have given up work to care for a loved one.
This will make it even harder for carers to get the money needed to pay for their prescriptions from the NHS.
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Through Age UK, pensioners and those affected by the prescription policy shift have been able to receive crucial support and guidance on navigating being a carer of a certain age.
Debbie, who has received support from the charity, outlined why she believes the Government’s decision is the wrong one to take.
She said: “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.”
Criticising the Health Secretary’s decision to potentially implement this change to NHS prescriptions, Age UK’s Chief Executive Caroline Abrahams emphasised what is at stake for many carers in their 60s.
Ms Abrahams explained: “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.”
Furthermore, the expert on policy affecting pensioners outlined how unpaid carers are not immune from their own health issues and could be risking their health by paying for someone else’s medication and not their own.
She added: “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?”
“The adverse impact on older carers of this policy proposal adds to our sense that it has not been properly thought through.
“One senior doctor told me it was a ‘ridiculous idea’, because it is so likely to be self-defeating.”
Anyone concerned about the changes to free NHS prescriptions is encourged to reach out to Age UK for guidance as soon as possible.