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Harman: 'People shouldn't have to chose between work and caring'

10 September 2009
Harriet Harman has stepped up the Government's action to raise awareness of flexible working rights for carers with the publication of a new survey showing that millions were unaware of flexible working rights for parents and carers.

The majority (82 per cent) of adults aren't aware that carers are legally entitled to ask their employer for flexible working arrangements, according to the new research. More than a third (35 per cent) of people surveyed had children or caring responsibilities for someone with a disability or chronic illness which would make them eligible to ask.

People also have very different views about what makes someone a carer:

· Just 13 per cent thought it was doing certain things like popping to the shops to help out;

· 43 per cent thought it was helping out with tasks for a couple of hours a day; and

· 30 per cent thought that it was helping out for most of the day such as washing and cooking meals.

In fact, everyone who cares for a spouse, relative, or someone who lives with them, whatever level of support they provide, has the right to as their employer if they can work flexibly.

People with caring responsibilities should not be afraid to ask: employers have already demonstrated their acceptance of flexible working, with more than 91 per cent of requests from parents and carers being accepted.

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said:

"Over the next two decades the number of people over 85 is expected to double, and the care given to them by their families will be every bit as important as—if not more important than—the care provided by social services and health authorities.

Family care is very important, with the 'stay-at-home' daughter who used to provide that care now a 'going-out-to-work' daughter. We do not want people to have to choose between their work or providing important family care, so the question of their ability to work and employers' ability to respond flexibly is a huge one for the future.

This Government recognises the importance of this family care, and those who go out to work as well as care for older relatives. That is why we brought in the right to request flexible working for those who care for older and disabled relatives."

Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK said:

"Millions of families are facing a care crunch, juggling the need to provide care for an older or disabled relative or friend, but at the same time remain in work for longer. Businesses need people to make the most of their skills and experience in the workplace, yet millions of people are at risk of having to leave their jobs because of caring responsibilities and a lack of support. Our work with Employers for Carers has shown that flexible working can help businesses with productivity, recruitment and retention. Flexible working can be a win:win solution for carers and employers, and in most cases is very easy to arrange and manage."

The new data also suggests that the number of people 'sandwiched' between caring for older parents and children is on the rise: currently around one in a hundred people said they are currently in this role. This increases to five percent expecting to be caring in the future. The younger generation expects to have to do more caring in the future - a quarter of 18-24 year olds expect to be caring for both a child and a parent in the future, as do one in ten 25-34 year olds.

Journalist, broadcaster and 'sandwich carer' Fiona Phillips, said:

"Juggling my two sons, my father's illness, my husband and a full-time job became too difficult – something had to give. While working full-time I felt constantly guilty at not spending enough time with my dad and my sons, so now that I can work more flexibly I find it much easier to juggle my responsibilities and achieve a better balance. It's vitally important that people in similar situations – caring for their kids and a parent who depends on them, are aware of the rights they are legally entitled to which could help them cope, such as having the right to ask their employer to work flexibly."

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