Carers are still missing out, now and in later life
Caring is an issue that will touch most of us. Three in five people become carers at some point in their lives, we learn this Carers Rights Day.
Today is Carers Rights Day and this year’s campaign from Carers UK is focused on Missing Out: know your rights as a carer.
It is an opportunity to consider how best to get the right advice, information and support to carers not only to help them today but also to help them plan for a good later life.
6.5 million people in the UK care, unpaid, for a disabled, older or ill family member or friend. Most carers are working age and the peak age of caring is 50-64, so understanding carers rights at work is an important piece of the jigsaw. We know that balancing work and caring on a day to day basis can be a struggle – one in six carers give up work or reduce their hours as a result. The everyday pressures of caring can leave people unable to plan for their own later life. For example, caring can impact on someone’s ability to save, both in terms of limiting time available to work and increasing costs.
Under employment law, carers have the right to request flexible working and to have time off for dependants. They can be entitled to a Carers Assessment and to receive Carers Allowance (if they care for someone for more than 35 hours per week). They may also have protection for their State Pension in the form of carers credit, which can help build up National Insurance contributions.
It is important for carers to know their rights today, to help them with the everyday practical, financial and emotional pressures of caring for someone they love. Some of these rights, such as carers credit towards the state pension, will also help them plan for their later life.
Beyond the rights enshrined in law, what else might help carers stay in work; manage the impact of caring on their finances and plan for later life? We are waiting for news on the Government’s Carers Strategy. But we know that, whilst Government can play a role, it is employers who can make a real, practical difference. When it comes to what employers can do, it is as much about changing culture as it is about enforcing rights. Ideas include:
- Start with understanding how many carers you employ and ask them what might help
- Develop and implement a carers policy
- Introduce carers leave
- Train line managers and help them support carers
- Facilitate peer support networks for carers
- Nominate a Carers Champion to tackle stigma and increase visibility
- Offer guidance on managing the impact of caring on finances and retirement plans
And there are many employers who are doing these things already. A recent report by BITC – Age in the Workplace – cites some current examples.
Nationwide has expanded the support it offers working carers, with a strong emphasis on good people management. The company’s flexible working policies are informed by the views of carers in its workforce. Nationwide also trains managers to provide support and has set up a working carers’ network so carers can support each other.
At Centrica, staff who are also carers are supported with up to a month’s paid leave, altered working hours, mentoring, line manager training and a 1,000-strong carers’ support network (1 in 36 of its workforce). The company estimates that the support available to carers has saved Centrica around £4.5 million in absence-linked costs, along with another £2 million on recruitment.
A good employer needs to focus on enforcing carers rights at work and on changing workplace culture to ensure that the carers they employ have the advice, information and support they need to remain at work. By making, often simple, changes both employers and employees will reap the benefits both now and in the future.