By Claire West
The Supporting Working Carers Report is warning that as well as losing money, businesses risk losing valuable, experienced employees if action is not urgently taken to enable people with caring responsibilities to remain in work.
There are more than three million employees who currently have to balance their work commitments and their family caring responsibilities; almost two million of those people work full time.
New evidence from over 200 employers shows that providing these carers with better support in the workplace can result in cost savings for businesses. This is because better support of working carers:
Improves staff productivity;
Improves staff retention; and
Reduces sick leave and absenteeism rates among staff.
Carers already have a legal right to request flexible working hours after 26 weeks of continuous employment, and a Bill is going through Parliament that will give everyone that same right. This will reduce the stigma among carers when discussing this issue with their place of work.
The Government is also exploring other ways of supporting carers who want to stay in work or are trying to return to employment. The Care Bill will give carers new rights to support that put them on the same footing as the people they care for — they’ll have the right to get support from their local authority for the first time and councils will have to consider how they can work with providers to develop care and support services that enable people, including carers, to work.
But the report highlights the need for a cultural shift among businesses towards this issue; workplaces and services have shifted to help working parents to juggle family responsibilities and this shift in attitude now needs to take place for carers of older and disabled loved ones.
This report, which has been produced by the Government, major employers and the charity Carer’s UK, recommends that:
Employers renew their commitment to flexible working and actively promote the benefits of this approach with other businesses;
Businesses “carer proof” their policies and procedures to ensure they are fit to deal with the UK’s growing care responsibilities; and
Local authorities support the development of a care market that offers more flexible and affordable care and support services that enable carers to stay in work.
With a rapidly ageing population, the number of people who will face the challenge of balancing work and caring responsibilities is set to grow; this is therefore a growing challenge that businesses will need to address.
In launching this report, the Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said:
Carers do an incredible job of supporting their loved ones but too many feel they cannot combine this important role with the jobs they have in the workplace. This has costly implications for businesses and the economy, as well as for the carers themselves.
This report is a landmark statement from business and Government that more can and should be done to support working carers. There are already many employers who recognise the benefits of helping staff to balance their work and care commitments but we need to spread this good practice to make this the reality in every business.
Ian Peters, MD British Gas Residential Energy and Chair of Employers for Carers, said:
For business, the message is simple: unless workplaces provide better support for carers they will continue to see growing numbers of their most experienced staff forced to leave work.
By having the right measures in place we can keep UK businesses more productive, improve workers’ health and well-being, keep more of our employees working and keep contributions coming in to the Exchequer in terms of tax and insurance.
Caroline Waters, Co-Chair of the Task and Finish Group, Vice President of Carers UK and former Director of People and Networks for BT Plc, said:
We won the argument that supporting parents of young children to work was good for business and good for the economy — it is time that the same happened for carers of older and disabled loved ones.
But flexibility in the workplace can only go so far. Good quality, reliable and flexible childcare has been essential for parents to be able to work. We need the same vision and concerted commitment for families who care for adults and disabled relatives.
If we act now we can create a society that helps families care for their loved ones and an economy that is strengthened by a thriving care sector.