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Carer or career?

Authors: Lisa O'Dea Lisa O'Dea

04 December 2012

Carers Rights Day last week aimed to raise awareness and give advice to the 6.4 million people in the UK who are caring for members of their family.  At least 3 million of these people also juggle working with their caring responsibilities.  However an estimated 1 in 5 carers find they are unable to carry on working and managing the demands of caring for sick or disabled relatives.  

Previous research has shown that carers who have given up their job, reduced their hours or taken a more junior position to care for sick and disabled relatives lost £11,000 a year in lost earnings.   Part of this is due to long-periods out of the workplace.  Carers UK’s State of Caring survey found that almost 30% of respondents spent over ten years out of work as a result of caring.  As most people become carers between the ages of 45 and 59, this means that people are exiting the workforce when they should be at the peak of their careers.  Giving up work at this age could mean that carers will struggle to return to the workplace when caring comes to an end and face long-term financial hardship into retirement.  Studies have shown that carers giving up work costs the economy £1.3bn a year, partly due to lost tax revenues.  

A survey of working carers by Employers for Carers shows that people who work and care for someone who does not live near them are under particular stress.  Almost one in four (23%) had changed their working pattern to care, nearly half (43%) felt their work had been negatively affected by caring, and a further third were anxious caring would impact on their capacity to work in the future.  However, Employers for Carers also finds that flexible working practices such as access to emergency leave for carers saved one of their partners £1 million a year in being able to retain valued and skilled employees.  

When Nick Clegg announced his plans for revolutionising flexible working for parents, he said he wanted to take the stigma out of flexible working by extending the Right to Request Flexible Working to all employees and stated that "giving everyone this new right will help drive a culture shift in the workplace.”  However we need to ensure that this is available to everyone not just people with young children.  Until the government and businesses recognise that we need flexible working legislation which takes into account the changing needs of our entire population, we can still expect many unpaid carers to continue struggling to balance the demands of caring with their careers.