Carers should be given a week’s paid leave, says charity

Report reveals two-thirds of people have looked after an elderly, ill or disabled relative 

Employees with caring responsibilities should be given paid care leave, a leading charity has said, as a new study found that almost two-thirds of people have cared for an elderly, ill or disabled relative.

The report from Carers UK found that 65 per cent of adults in the UK had been a carer at some point in their adult life, and that, between 2016 and 2018, between 15 and 18 per cent of people in work were carers.

The charity, which analysed data from the Economic Social and Research Council, also cited a ‘gender care gap’, noting that women were disproportionately more likely to hold more demanding caring responsibilities.

Women made up 57 per cent of carers providing up to 19 hours of care per week, and 63 per cent of those providing more than 50 hours of care per week.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, called on the next government to give carers a right to five to 10 days of paid care leave, adding that such a policy could also help address the gender imbalance in care.

“Women are disproportionately affected, facing difficult decisions about their loved ones’ health, family finances and how best to combine paid work and care more than a decade earlier than men,” she said.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

“[The government] must also prioritise sustainable, long-term investment in our social care system so that millions of people caring for loved ones can stay in work and look after their own health.”

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, echoed the need for businesses to retain skilled workers. “Employers need to empower and support working carers before they lose out on key talent,” she said.

Miller said the provision of flexible working was an important part of supporting carers, and that employers should communicate their policies on paid and unpaid leave for caring responsibilities and emergencies. “This will send a clear message to staff that they will be supported,” she said, adding that it was “crucial that line managers understand the demands working carers experience and feel confident to have sensitive conversations with employees.”

The report found people in lower-paid professions, such as cleaners, labourers and builders, made up a greater proportion of those with intensive care responsibilities than workers in ‘professional’ jobs. Lower-paid workers made up 40 per cent of those providing more than 50 hours of care per week, compared to just 30 per cent who were classed as professionals.

The report urged employers to increase awareness of carers within their organisations, and support those with caring responsibilities by providing access to help and advice, as well as making sure staff have access to flexible working patterns.  

It also recommended employers consider offering mid-career ‘MOTs’, which could include a focus on managing work and care. In theory, this could provide support at the time caring is most likely to be an issue – the report found half of women had taken on adult care responsibilities by the age of 46, and half of men by the age of 57.

Anne Willmot, age campaign director at Business in the Community, said caring policies should not be seen as a burden to employees, and that they “more than pay back through enabling carers to remain in work”. 

“Being a carer often requires you to use MBA-level skills in project management and negotiation to get the support for the person you care for,” Willmot said. “These skills are highly valuable in the workplace. Yet far too often, carers say they can’t talk to their line manager to flex their hours to attend a medical appointment or take time off in an emergency.”