Implementing the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004
Cooperation between authorities - Carer-friendly employment practice
- The UK has over 3 million working carers
- Both carers and employers are likely to benefit from carer-friendly employment policies and significant business benefits can be achieved by using a flexible approach
- Carers are most likely to be in the age group 45-64 years (16) and therefore likely to be among those with the most work experience (29).
- Carers may be reluctant to disclose information about their caring role to their employer (ref: caring for sick or disabled children (2006)
- Many carers who are offered the flexibility they need to remain in work respond by making up lost time, working at home and by increased loyalty and commitment (ref as above)
- Almost half of carers are in paid work (45).
- Carers are likely to take on work that is below their skill levels and capacity (29).
- Flexible working arrangements are essential to ensure that carers can remain in employment (45,29).
- Links between employers and statutory services are generally poor (29).
- Managers' awareness of family-friendly employment policy within their organisation is generally poor (50).
- Family-friendly employment policy is implemented with a degree of reciprocity between mangers and carers (51).
- The Employee Relations Act 1999 allows employees time off to deal with emergencies (29) and 'a reasonable amount of unpaid time off in order to care for dependants' (45). Further information is available on the Department of Trade and Industry website.
- From April 2007 the Work and Families Act (2006) gave carers the right to request flexible working. Carers UK offer detailed information at http://www.carersuk.org/
- Who Cares Wins explores the business benefits of supporting working carers: http://www.carersuk.org
- Local strategic partnerships should ensure that links are made with local employers and Jobcentre Plus, with the aim of raising awareness and bringing about attitude change.
- Encourage local partners and employers to use a checklist (Ch 3, point 13) to assess their standards in relation to supporting carers in the workplace.
- Human resources should record and evaluate the ways in which family-friendly policies are interpreted and used in practice.
- Employers that offer flexible working to all employees as a matter of good practice will avoid singling out carers.
A self-assessment tool for employers is available on the Employers for Carers website. Its aim is to assist employers in assessing what they are doing to support carers and identify areas for development.
Approximately 3 million people in the UK combine caring and work (52). The effects of caring on employment can force carers to work beneath their skill levels (29), for fewer hours or even stop working altogether.
Extensive research and policy cited by Arksey (45) has shown that employment can enhance the quality of life for carers in a number of ways. Working carers are likely to have better incomes, pension rights, career prospects and social networks. Employment can be beneficial to a carer's emotional and physical well-being and could reduce social exclusion and improve self-esteem.
The benefits for the employer are clear and are outlined in detail in the national carers' strategy (16). They include lower staff turnover, flexibility from a more diverse labour pool, improved staff motivation and loyalty and better all-round performance.
A study by Yeandle et al for Carers UK examines the way in which three very different employers have supported carers in the workplace. The study found that the culture of the organisation is key to supporting carers - trust is an important aspect of this. The endorsement of top level management is also necessary in larger organisations. The report emphasises the need to develop a general approach to diversity which includes carers, to provide training and support to managers and to develop internal support networks for carers.
The DVD Juggling work and care (53) looks at the 'business case' for employing carers. It explores the way five very different companies support carers and highlights the benefits of this to the employer. Available free from Carers UK, it would be useful for carers' leads when gaining the support of local employers.
Caring will affect almost half of the population by retirement age (54). Therefore, and especially where recruitment is a problem, employers cannot afford to ignore the potential workforce that carers represent.
Organisations will differ in their ability to support carers. Smaller ones, for example, may find flexibility difficult due to the smaller number of other employees to cover. On the other hand, their closeness to their employees may enhance understanding and flexibility (16). There is a need to develop models that will enable smaller-scale employers to support carers (45).
The nature of the work could also have an effect on flexibility. For example, a bank would have less flexibility than a hotel because of rigid opening times. In services with more rigid needs the staff group are often able to work out solutions themselves that create increased flexibility for all. Work placements for carers can be a useful way of engaging employers and showing them that carers are a valuable resource (43).
Even where carer-friendly employment policies are in place, awareness among employees and managers is low. Carers often rely on the goodwill of managers and on their interpretations of policy to grant leave for caring responsibilities (50,51). Training and support needs to be provided for managers. In addition human resources should record and evaluate the ways in which policies are interpreted and used in practice (50).
Statutory authorities are in a position to set standards for supporting carers in the workplace and should encourage contracted agencies and local partners to develop equally supportive policies.
Practice examples are self-reported and have not been evaluated.
- CareWISE is an important strand of Hertfordshire County Council's work/life balance strategy. It aims to provide a range of initiatives to help employees successfully combine their caring responsibilities with work. CareWISE offers all carers working for Hertfordshire County Council the right to request to work flexibly. It also offers paid time off to attend carers' support groups as well as access to an independently facilitated Hertfordshire County Council carers-only group. In addition, carers can take up to five days paid leave to deal with emergencies involving dependants. Further information is available from a Hertfordshire County Council case study and from the Action for Carers and Employment website.
- The London Borough of Merton has developed a carer's charter to ensure that all employees who are carers are given the necessary support to enable them to carry out their work commitments, whilst also caring for a dependant. View the Merton Carers Charter (38kb PDF).
A self-assessment tool for employers is available at. http://www.carersuk.org/Employersforcarers/AssessmentToolforbusiness