Helping employers support their working carers

Working carers in the UK: the context

There are over five million informal carers in the UK and their number has increased 16.5% since 2001. The economic value of their contribution, calculated from the cost per hour of providing homecare to an adult, is £132 billion a year – nearly twice what it was in 2001. Many carers are of working-age (an estimated one in ten working-age people) and being a carer has a profound impact on someone’s ability to work.

Despite the difficulties involved, an estimated 2.6 million people combine paid work and caring. With the right support many can remain in work and work may even provide much needed respite. However, many find this difficult and if time spent caring increases and impacts on work, this presents a challenge for both the employee and the employer. Juggling work and care can lead to stress and caring responsibilities can negatively affect carers’ health.

Many carers report that job loss as a result of caring responsibilities could have been avoided if they had greater in-work flexibility or support at work. Making sure carers feel supported to manage both their caring responsibilities and their work is an important challenge to employers wanting to retain good staff. It is a challenge that is likely to grow, with an ageing population likely to increase many workers’ caring responsibilities.

The need for action

The UK is increasingly reliant on informal carers – not only have they increased in number the time they spend caring has also increased substantially in recent years. This has been attributed to a decrease in the amount of care and support provided by councils in the context of increasing need. An ageing population – a quarter will be over 65 in 2035 compared to 18% today – will only add to this problem.

Both government and business have an incentive to act. The public expenditure costs of carers leaving employment in England are at least £1.3 billion a year – based on lost tax revenues and the cost of Carers Allowance. Indeed, two-thirds of carers surveyed by Carers UK in 2016 felt they had no option but to give up work, while four in ten said their work had suffered. If businesses want to retain staff and maintain their productivity they must take this issue seriously.

What can be done?

Findings from the latest (September 2017) Simplyhealth/YouGov Everyday Health Tracker survey show that, when asked what support should be available for people caring for elderly relatives, two-thirds (65%) would like to see flexible working hours and half (51%) would like the ability to take unpaid leave from work. Also, 50% would welcome more support to remain in work, through, for example, support groups and carer-friendly policies.

The Communities & Local Government Select Committee have highlighted an approach taken in Germany, where a legal framework to reconcile the responsibilities of long-term caring and work has been introduced. Depending on the size of the employer, this legislation allows carers to take short- (10 days) and longer-term (up to 24 months) periods of leave to care for a family member, on a full- or part-time basis.

We recently hosted a workshop, in partnership with Simplyhealth, to promote discussion about the challenges for carers at work,  identify ways they can be supported, and how to improve opportunities for people with caring responsibilities to enter, return to, remain and progress in work. Soon a short briefing paper will follow with recommendations to policymakers.