Implementing the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004

Assessment of carers - Promoting access to education, training, employment and leisure

Key research and policy findings

Practice points

Research and policy

Research shows that carers are more likely to lack confidence and self-esteem (43). This, in addition to their availability, is likely to disadvantage them in taking up education, employment or leisure activities.

Many carers have been out of the workplace for some time and may need to build skills and confidence before considering work. It is important that people are supported to prepare themselves for a return to the workplace (44), and this should include people whose caring responsibilities have come to an end. Preparation through training and work placements can avert problems in paid employment (43). Learning for living (see below) is a City and Guilds course specifically designed for this purpose.

Learning for living is an online learning resource that can lead to a qualification accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The Level 2 Certificate in Personal Development & Learning for Unpaid Carers is designed to identify and build on the knowledge, understanding and skills of people who are unpaid carers, either currently or in the recent past.

The award provides carers with an opportunity for self-development and confidence building, to prepare for other roles and choices and to transfer the skills acquired from the caring role.

Delivery is via approved City & Guilds centres (either distance learning or at a centre), and is potentially fundable by the Learning and Skills Council in England and by Education and Learning Wales.

Education can be for pleasure, to support carers in their caring role (e.g. learning stress management or correct lifting and handling) or as part of a plan to return to employment. It may or may not lead to the gaining of qualifications. Carers may also see time for study as a break from their caring responsibilities.

Flexible support services enable carers to remain in work (16,45) and facilitate their access to education (44). Services may include voucher schemes for short-term breaks, which offer increased flexibility, or the use of direct payments. Distance learning may be more appropriate to the needs of some carers. Many carers are on low incomes and may need support with costs for transport or college fees (44). Action for Carers in Employment have successfully campaigned for a reduction in education fees for carers and for courses targeted at them (44).

Carers, just like other people, may work shifts and weekends and may need support outside normal working hours (29). Certainly such support must be available to meet leisure needs. If carers are to achieve their desired outcomes with regard to employment, education, training and leisure activities, new and flexible outcomes-focused services will need to be developed in line with local need. In a survey for the Department of Work and Pensions Arksey (ref 2005) found that some services in particular would support carers to combine work and care. These include: longer day centre hours, childcare and after school clubs for disabled children and practical help with domestic chores.

Carers' participation in the planning and provision of local learning resources is essential to ensure that it fits with desired outcomes (44). Courses may need to be targeted at certain local groups and offered at times when carers are more likely to be able to participate. The involvement of carers will play a vital part in the development of flexible services, which, in turn, will enable carers to participate more fully in society.

Many carers say that they are restricted in what they do because of concern that something unforeseen might happen (46). For example, if a carer has transport problems or is taken ill, who will support the person they care for? There is evidence that such uncertainties influence the decision making of carers with regard to work and retirement (ref Arksey et al 2005). Carers' emergency schemes are important to give carers peace of mind to pursue their desired daily activities. Previous guidance (8) has highlighted the need for contingency planning and in the White Paper Our health, our care, our say (56) the government gives a commitment to ensure that short-term, home-based support is made available to carers in crisis or emergency situations.

Case study

A carer raised concerns about the stress caused by her uncertainty of what would happen in an emergency. She was unsure who to contact to provide care for her son who is profoundly autistic and has Pica syndrome.

The carer had recently been in an emergency situation: her partner had had a heart attack while her son was at home with her. Although she had managed to cope on this occasion, she felt it would be useful to establish a plan and identify how best to manage such a situation in the future.

A meeting was arranged and an emergency strategy was devised as part of a carer's assessment.

Result: A carer who feels listened to and supported and has peace of mind, at no cost to social services.

Ideas from practice

Practice examples are self-reported and have not been evaluated.

The Carers UK resource pack

Carers UK has produced a resource pack for local authorities and wider use. It contains the following resources:

  • an introductory flyer on the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, published by Action for Carers and Employment (ACE)/Carers UK, which explains how the resource pack can support its implementation
  • Carers and their rights by Luke Clements
  • Training resources on the Supporting working carers CD-ROM: employers' guide, carers' guide and guide for union representatives
  • Juggling work and care: a DVD with case studies from employers and carers
  • the information booklets Carers at work and Juggling work and care
  • flyers on access to learning from City & Guilds, Open University, National Extension College, Elizabeth Nuffield Foundation (for Philippa Russell's new guide on access to learning for carers)
  • Carers UK information and publications list.

The resource pack has been sent out to local authorities, and can be accessed via the ACE website and the Carers UK website.

With the exception of the DVD (which is available on order free of charge), the pack can be downloaded. To support implementation, printed copies will also be distributed through the Carers UK associate membership and ACE networks.