CARERS UK HAS PUBLISHED a new research report Supporting carers at work: opportunity and imperative

The report shows 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 per cent) of working carers were worrying about continuing to juggle work and care and 77 per cent 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.

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

Whilst four in ten (39 per cent) of all working carers could work from home most or some of the time, 11 per cent said they needed this at work and a further 12 per cent (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 per cent 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 per cent) working carers had the ability to take paid Carer’s Leave, 45 per cent said they needed it and a further 13 per cent said they were at risk of reducing their working hours or giving up work altogether if they didn’t have it. 36 per cent 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 per cent) 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 per cent) 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 per cent 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 through more supportive working practices.

With the pandemic, 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, says the charity, with 81 per cent 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.”

Responding to the report, Stephen Chandler, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said: “This important report underlines the vital contribution that carers make – they are the backbone of our economy and our care services. It also shows the major impact that caring has for someone’s own health and well-being.

“We support Carers UK’s call for greater recognition and support for carers. We have ourselves previously called for £1.5 billion to support carers to get a break to enable them to keep going over winter. We need investment now to avoid carers breaking down which will result in further pressures on health and care services, with devastating impacts for all of us, especially those of us who are older or disabled.

“As we reform adult social care we need to radically re-think the relationship between working and caring. At a time when the economy is shouting out for workers, we must do more to support carers, with regular breaks, stronger employment rights and greater support to remain in employment.”

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.

* Read the report here.

* Source: Carers UK