Listening to Martin Lewis close to tears as he tries to help families around the country survive feels surreal. It's impossible to comprehend how we have reached the point of needing to choose between food and fuel in one of the richest countries on the planet in the 21st Century, and yet, here we are.
Like everyone else, foster carers around the country are making difficult choices. They cannot claim child benefit or child tax credit and should be paid an allowance for the child. In the past, this allowance was generally sufficient to ensure that all the requirements set out in National Minimum Standards for Fostering could be met. This would include, amongst other things, pocket money, clubs and activities, days out, high quality food and regular purchases of good quality clothing. The allowance has not increased in line with the soaring prices, however, the expectations contained within the above statutory guidance remain the same. Failure to meet these expectations can lead to a standards of care investigation and de-registration.
Foster carers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are in the same dire financial situation as many families around the country, with an added stress of having to factor in whether their emergency budgeting choices will be the end of their fostering role. One foster carer posted in a forum recently that her gas and electric bill had arrived and it was nearly £500 for one month.
There is a general misconception that foster carers are earning a fortune. This myth is compounded by misleading recruitment campaigns, which fail to explain that the money quoted is not a wage. In fact, some of it may be taken at source for things such as children's savings or other deduc tions, and a large portion is specifically for clothing, toiletries, uniform and other items for the child.
Last summer I was invited to speak to a group of soon to be consultant psychiatrists about the role of a foster carer. During the session, the subject of payment came up and one of the psychiatrists googled fees and allowances in his local area. They were all astonished to discover that Level 1 carers received a fee of £50 a week. It's hard to imagine how a £500 fuel bill can be met with an income of £50 per week.
For kinship carers this can be even less. Some do not receive any fee and anything they do receive is means tested and reduced. Kinship carers, like mainstream carers, will be expected to transport children to contact as well as attend many meetings and medical appointments at a time when fuel prices have rocketed.
Foster carers like myself with children with additional needs are particularly hard hit. In our house we have a lift, hoists, a medical fridge, several power wheelchairs to charge, additional washing and heating, plus a large wheel chair adapted van which now costs in excess of £100 per tank of fuel.
Many of our members are contacting us worried about the future and feeling guilty and sad that they can no longer afford to provide some of the fun holidays and activities of the past.
Clearly something has got to give.
I am aware that a government minister, Rachel Maclean, has suggested that people should “work more hours or get a better paid job" to survive. Foster carers and kinship carers cannot work more hours, and as a Safeguarding Minister she should realise this. I'm not sure how everyone resigning and "getting a better paid job" would solve the sufficiency crisis. I look forward to hearing about this, but in the meantime we continue to support fostering families trying to navigate financial difficulties while maintaining the statutory requirements placed upon them.
Jane Collins is the director of Foster Support, a not for profit organisation that provides support and advice to its membership. They offer foster carers a robust package of dedicated, professional support including allegations support and therapeutic training to build and secure relationships with children in their care. www.fostersupport.co.uk