I have had to reduce my hours at work due to increased caring responsibilities, my husband recently had a mild heart attack and I’m having problems dealing with my mother’s worsening dementia.”
What is the issue?
With the world of work, working patterns, and structures changing all the time, Carers UK has started to see an increasingly steep rise in the number people who are juggling paid employment with their unpaid caring responsibilities.
The UK lags behind other countries when it comes to workplace rights for carers and it’s time our workplaces reflect the reality of our lives. Many advanced and further ageing economies have some form of Carer’s Leave in place, including Japan, Canada, the US, Germany, Ireland, France, Belgium, Sweden. Our analysis of other countries’ policies around a statutory right to paid care leave and estimated that paid care leave of at least five days per year could save the UK economy around £3.5 billion a year.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, we estimated that 4.9 million people were juggling paid work alongside caring unpaid – about 15% of the UK’s population. We think a further 2.8 million then began juggling work and care during the pandemic, taking the new total to 7.7 million – the majority of whom are women.
As our population ages, and changes to the way we work occur as a result of COVID-19, the issue of people juggling work and care is only going grow as a challenge. As the number of people providing unpaid care increases, so does the number of people juggling work and care. With one in three people in the NHS now juggling work and care it is a problem that cannot be ignored.
The stresses and strain of having to juggle paid work alongside unpaid care has already led to hundreds of thousands of people having to leave the labour market. On average, 600 people per day quit work because of a lack of support to juggle work and care – including over 500,000 people in the two years before the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is not only a strong moral obligation to support working carers, but also a strong economic imperative, too. The UK economy and the productivity of business and employers, including the public and voluntary sectors, depends on retaining their skilled and knowledgeable staff. Crucially, that increasingly includes employees juggling work with caring.
What needs to change?
I gave up a very well paid full-time job to fulfill my caring role and the massive amount of paperwork it comes with. I was self-employed for a while, but have since had to give that up too, due to the volume of ‘work’ required by my role as a parent carer.”
Many elements of society need to adapt and change in order to support our growing and changing population of working carers, and to realise the benefits of doing so. While delivering clear economic benefits for the economy as a whole, as well as for employers and businesses, the gains for communities and families are vast.
It is essential that in order to support carers to stay in paid work there is investment in social care and that affordable and accessible care is available.
Another issue of vital importance is the right to take Carer’s Leave whilst being in employment. Our evidence from working carers and employers is that a right to Carer’s Leave supports employees to remain in work, and improves their health and wellbeing, while supporting employers with retention and recruitment.
Employers should also be providing flexible working options for all working carers who are juggling unpaid caring responsibilities and paid work. The right to request flexible working was first introduced in 2003 for parents of young and disabled children. From April 2007, the Work and Families Act 2006 (The Work and Families (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 in Northern Ireland) gave specified carers, as well as parents, the right to request flexible working. Research revealed that 96% of requests from carers have been accepted and that the overall impact on employers has been a positive one.
What Carers UK is doing
Carers UK has a long track record of highlighting the impact of care on employment. We do this by developing an evidence base through research with both carers and employers to better understand how unpaid carers can be better supported in the workplace.
Employers for Carers, established by Carers UK as the first formal employer forum, first established in 2009, continues to provide critical support to organisations that want to support their employees who have caring responsibilities. You can find out more about their work and how to become a member here.
We also continue to campaign for carers to have a right to Carer’s Leave. This has recently taken a firm step forward with the introduction of a Private Members’ Bill on Carer’s Leave, by Wendy Chamberlain MP. If passed, this would provide employees with caring responsibilities landmark new rights at work to take a weeks’ unpaid leave each year for the very first time. Although our ultimate goal remains up to 10 days' paid leave from work for all carers in employment, we believe that successfully passing this Bill would be an important step in the right direction in helping carers remain, or return to, work, which is why Carers UK is actively supporting the Bill. Carers UK is working closely with Wendy to try to make sure this Bill becomes law. You can find out more about our campaign, and how to get involved here.
Supported by Barclays LifeSkills, our ‘Let’s talk about flexible working’ guide has practical information to help you start the conversation about flexible working with your employer. You can download the guide here.
Career or care: Women, unpaid caring and employment in Northern Ireland
Report from the Carer Poverty Commission on barriers to work for women with caring roles in Northern Ireland.