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The case for change: supporting working carers

Author: Stephen McCauley
30 November 2016

Stephen McCauley, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Hospice UK, looks at how employers like Aviva are helping to improve support for working carers.

Over three million people in the UK combine work with care. That’s one in nine of all workers juggling their working lives with their caring responsibilities.

And this number is expected to rise half as much again over the next 20 years.

Research shows that around 315,000 people have left work to provide unpaid care, and remain out of work, and many more have reduced their hours, put their career ambitions on hold, or taken a lower-skilled job.

With our ageing population, the number of carers is expected to increase and the effects of losing talented, experienced people from the workforce will grow.

Supporting working carers has become both a social and economic imperative.

Case for change

Carers identify a lack of workplace support as a key reason for their decision to leave work.

Whilst many employers recognise the importance of supporting working carers, many others do not currently offer sufficiently flexible working arrangements for people in a caring role.

Indeed just one in six organisations has policies in place to support carers to balance their work and home lives.

The peak age for caring is between the ages of 50 and 64 when many employees, particularly women who take on most caring responsibilities, will have gained valuable skills and experience and will be at the peak of their careers. Employers are losing people in whom they have invested significant time and money.

In the current economic climate, it has never been more important to focus on the benefits of retaining skilled workers.

But while many organisations are becoming aware of the clear social and business case, they may not be clear on the actions they can take to support their workers with caring responsibilities.

#WeCare

Last Friday was Carers Rights Day and the launch of Aviva’s #WeCare pilot scheme, aimed at better supporting their working carers at their Bristol site.

At the core of Aviva’s pilot is the aim of improving the education and training for line managers so that they can help identify and support carers in the workforce.

Identifying carers is crucial: so many people do not see themselves as a ‘carer’, instead thinking it is as their role or duty. Carers often do not consider their own needs, potentially compromising their own physical and emotional wellbeing.

The pilot will also offer employees access to a range of support services via a digital portal and, crucially, seek to create a community for carers to support each other.

Aviva hope to roll out similar support schemes across their business, and they are part of a growing number of employers committed to doing more to support working carers.

Carers of dying people

The growing carers’ movement will include many carers of people approaching the end of their lives, and carers are a prominent part of Hospice UK’s new five year strategy from 2017.

We believe that more carers could stay in work with better use of flexible working rules to support people to take an extended period of leave, up to 12 months, and be able to return to the same or a similar role. This would reduce some of the negative social and financial impacts of being a carer.

Policies along these lines are well-established in countries like Ireland, Germany and Canada, and it could be an important part of giving carers more choice over their working lives.

Hospice UK has already held roundtable sessions at the Conservative and Labour Party conferences this autumn to discuss our emerging thinking on improving support to working carers of dying people.

And early next year we will hold discussions with key stakeholders including government, carer and business groups to go into the details of how we can improve support for working carers, including strengthening employment protections.

The case for change is clear and through the example of schemes like Aviva’s, the carers’ movement will continue to grow, inspiring and encouraging organisations across the country to better support their working carers.

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