I devoted my life to healing but I lost my retirement

I devoted my life to healing but I lost my retirement

  • By Georgina Hayes and Ian Hamilton
  • BBC News Scotland


Jenny Whinnett gave up her job and spent 20 years caring for her severely disabled son

When Jenny Whinnett’s son died aged 21, she was struck with unimaginable grief, but also suffered a severe financial blow.

Her son Craig had Profound Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) and needed round-the-clock care, which forced Jenny to give up her career in management when he was born.

Like hundreds of thousands of unpaid carers, Jenny lost years of employment income but missed out on a workplace pension that would have helped her into retirement.

A charity is now asking full-time carers to get more support, including the equivalent of a work-related pension, to prevent them from facing retirement-age poverty .

Carers Scotland told the BBC that many are left in poverty in old age because they lack access to a work pension.

And that’s despite taking on a full-time role that saves the public purse billions of pounds.

Jenny, from Montrose, who is now 62, says her entire financial support network was cut almost overnight when she lost her son.

“You’re left there to pick up the pieces,” she told BBC Scotland.

She says she wasted 20 years of workplace pension contributions caring for Craig, creating significant hardship during his retirement years and making her feel “penalized for caring for him”.

“We have to think that when we reach retirement age, we are not going to live in poverty,” she says.


Fiona Collie, from Carers Scotland, said many are left in poverty in old age because they don’t have access to a workplace pension

The Scottish Government estimates that unpaid care is currently saving the country £12.8 billion a year in social care costs, plus £320 million in health care costs.

Campaigners argue some of this money should be used to support carers to ensure they don’t end up in poverty when they are older.

“Around three quarters of carers say they will depend on their state pension when they retire, and only a very small number would have a work pension on top of that,” says Fiona Collie, head of policy for Carrers Scotland.

“They cease to be eligible for carer’s allowance as it is an overlapping benefit, so as soon as they reach retirement age, carer’s allowance stops.”

Carer’s Allowance currently stands at £76.75 a week, but Ms Collie says only one in 10 carers is actually eligible even for this payment.

“There is a range of qualification criteria,” she said.

“You can’t study full time, you can only earn up to around £130 a week after deductions, and if you have overlapping benefits like a superannuation you’re not eligible at all. “

Carers Allowance is currently being transferred to the Scottish Government, and some changes are being made since launch, including a ‘Carers Allowance Supplement’ which the Scottish Government says will mean eligible carers will receive up to £540 a year more than those in the rest of the UK.

Ms Collie says: ‘We have certainly said to the government that we believe carers should be able to have a pension and be able to retire earlier, but also be given a lot more support for automatic enrollment to ensure that they can increase their state pension, because there’s no guarantee they’ll get a full one.”


Michelle Miller gave up work to care for her disabled son Beinn full-time

Michelle Miller, who was an NHS midwife before she had to give up her job to care for her disabled son Beinn full-time, says she missed almost 20 years of pension contributions due to her role as a caregiver .

Like Jenny, Michelle believes carers should be entitled to some form of occupational pension to reflect the full-time role they perform.

“I’m getting my small carer’s allowance, but the burden continues to be on the other people in your family,” she told BBC Scotland.

“My husband’s pension is going to have to be where we are, and that worries me, and it’s amplified now because of the cost of living crisis.”

Michelle, from Cairneyhill near Dunfermline, had originally hoped to return to work but says there was not enough alternative support available for Beinn.

“Maybe if I had had access to respite, I could have done something and gone back to work to some extent because I loved my job,” she says.

“They are calling for midwives,” she adds.

“If I had still worked in the NHS and had a full-time job and a pension that reflected that, what’s different? If you’re doing a full-time job, shouldn’t you be compensated for it in terms of your pension?” says Michelle.

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has acknowledged the ‘incredible contribution’ carers make to the community and that the pandemic and then the cost of living crisis have made the pressures they face harder than ever .

“By the end of this year, we will begin rolling out Carer Support Payment to replace the UK government’s Carer’s Allowance, which will extend entitlement to many unpaid carers who wish to study full-time, reducing barriers to education and helping to provide more stable income,” she said.

Ms Somerville added: “Our Carer Positive initiative works to improve awareness and flexibility for unpaid carers in the workplace and there are now over 490,000 staff working in 250 Carer Positive organizations across the country. Scotland.”

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