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Employers more supportive of caring, but carers still at risk of leaving work unless more measures adopted

25 November 2021
  • 72% of unpaid carers worry about juggling work and care
  • 53% of working carers say returning to workplace will be more challenging
  • 12% of working carers are at risk of reducing or giving up work if they are not allowed to work from home
  • One in five carers at risk of reducing or giving up work without social care

To coincide with Carers Rights Day, Carers UK today launched new research ‘Supporting carers at work: opportunity and imperative’ which showed that whilst some employers were more supportive of carers within their workplace, a significant proportion of carers were at risk of reducing their working hours or giving up work altogether if they did not get the right support measures in place.

The results also show how tough continuing to juggle work and providing unpaid care can be. Three quarters (72%) of working carers were worrying about continuing to juggle work and care and 77% felt tired at work because of the demands of their unpaid caring role. Six out of ten had given up opportunities at work because of their caring responsibilities.

Some employers have implemented more flexible working measures and become more supportive, but carers’ ability to work is still at risk if there is not more widespread adoption of support.

34% of working carers said that their employer had become much more understanding of caring during the pandemic and half (51%) said that their line manager understood caring well and was supportive. Around half (52%) said they had benefited from more flexible working in the workplace. However, one quarter (24%) said their employer was not understanding of caring.

Whilst four in ten (39%) of all working carers could work from home most or some of the time, 11% said they needed this at work and a further 12% (one in eight) said that if they didn’t have this, they would be at risk of reducing their working hours of giving up work altogether. Flexibility is essential to keep carers in paid employment, with 53% of carers saying that returning to the workplace would be more challenging. For others, the workplace provides an essential break from caring.

One in five (22%) working carers had the ability to take paid Carer’s Leave, 45% said they needed it and a further 13% said they were at risk of reducing their working hours or giving up work altogether if they didn’t have it. 36% had the ability to take unpaid Carer’s Leave.

By far the biggest risk factor to carers leaving work was the lack of social care. One in five (20%) of all working carers said they needed affordable and accessible care otherwise they would be at risk of reducing their working hours or giving up altogether. Similarly, one in ten (10%) needed services they used to rely on to return or they faced the same risks.

This is not a surprise given earlier research by Carers UK which found that 55% of carers who relied on day services were experiencing a reduction in support or no access at all. Around one third of carers who relied on care workers had experienced the same.

Juggling work and unpaid care was already a challenge pre-pandemic, with an estimated 600 people a day giving up work to care. This has costs for carers’ finances in the short and longer term, but it also has an impact on business productivity pre-pandemic with an estimated £8.2 billion which could be gained economically by more supportive working practices.1 

With the pandemic, a staggering 2.8 million workers became unpaid carers virtually overnight. This took the level of caring from an estimated one in seven workers pre-pandemic to one in five.

Things have got tougher for carers with 81% taking on more care often because the needs of the person they are caring for have increased. 

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

 “It’s great to see that flexible working and carers’ support within the workplace has made progress, but we can see from carers’ experiences that we’re at a crossroads where it’s still make or break for many. Carers have been providing more care than ever, with very few getting the breaks they need and the support they normally rely on. As a result they are exhausted and in poorer health. 

“There is more that employers can do to support carers. They can throw workers a lifeline like flexible working and Carer’s Leave that is not only supportive for carers, but makes good business sense, too. Leading good practice employers have demonstrated that supporting carers and providing greater flexibility is not only desirable, it’s also very doable. And there’s no time to lose. With labour markets tight, it’s essential for business to maintain productivity levels and keep key staff.

“The other part of the equation is greater investment in care services that carers both need and rely on in order to stay in paid work. There is only so far flexible working from employers can compensate for a lack of good quality care services.”

Read the report here.

The government has pledged to introduce up to one week of unpaid Carer’s Leave and is currently consulting on day one rights to request flexible working. Both have the potential to offer carers the support they need in the workplace. Carers UK is urging the government to introduce legislation at their earliest opportunity.

Carers UK is also encouraging employers to:

  • Adopt carer friendly employment practices
  • Be early adopters of unpaid Carer’s Leave in the workplace but also go one step further to make it paid Carer’s Leave
  • Make sure that employees know about their rights in the workplace if they are carers.

Carers UK is encouraging carers to find out about their rights and entitlements so that they get support at the right time as part of a UK-wide drive for Carers Rights Day.

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