Almost half of employees think staff with caring duties face discrimination

Experts say organisations have ‘everything to gain’ by helping employees balance responsibilities

Almost half (47 per cent) of UK public sector workers believe employers discriminate against employees with caring responsibilities, research published yesterday has revealed. 

The Unison-commissioned YouGov survey also found more than three-quarters (78 per cent) believed staying in a job was harder for carers or parents. 88 per cent of almost 3,000 public sector workers surveyed had either looked after an adult or were a parent.

In addition, 76 per cent reported feeling forced to make changes to their careers because of their caring responsibilities. Some had to quit altogether (17 per cent), while others took unpaid leave (32 per cent), or an hourly pay cut (9 per cent). 

“Parents and carers represent a huge proportion of the workforce,” said Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea. “Employers have everything to gain by helping them juggle their home and work responsibilities. It’s vital they get the support they need.”

Describing the findings as “important”, Denise Keating, CEO of Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei), added: “We live in an ageing society and with life expectancy continually increasing, there is a growing need for carers. The findings emphasise the need for employers to address these issues and tackle inflexible working conditions in order to ensure the proper support is in place for employees.”

The survey also revealed one in seven (14 per cent) workers had been turned down for promotion or had decided not to ask for a more senior role because of their caring duties.

The vast majority (95 per cent) wanted employers to do more to help carers balance job responsibilities with duties outside work. Keating recommended employers introduce flexible and agile working, implement returnship programmes, invest in employee assistance programmes and introduce paid care leave.

A report published by the work and pensions select committee earlier this year called for flexible working to be a ‘day one’ right for carers. Under current law, employees only have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements after 26 weeks of employment.

“There are simple changes that employers can make that really help carers and parents, and there is widespread public support for action from government and employers,” added Ellen Broomé, Coram Family and Childcare associate director. “With carers and parents making up a third of the workforce, and numbers set to increase, now is the time for action to make sure everyone can get the support they need.”

Michelle Ovens, founder of campaigning organisation peak b, agreed. “Flexible working is vital for allowing people with everything from family and carer responsibilities through to mental health difficulties to establish working patterns that suit them and help them to either stay in employment, or find their way back into work,” she said.

Meanwhile, responding in writing to a House of Commons question on carers’ career development, minister for disabled people, health and work Sarah Newton acknowledged: “Many carers struggle to find good jobs that are appropriate for their level of skill and experience after taking time out caring for children and other relatives. This is a loss to the economy, to employers, and to those individuals.”

Newton added the government is committed to continuing to support carers’ “health, wellbeing, employment and other life chances”. In particular, she highlighted the government’s efforts in helping to set up returnship programmes and establishing a flexible working taskforce.

Meanwhile, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced earlier this month it was mulling whether a duty should be placed on organisations to consider whether a job could be done flexibly and to make that clear when advertising for positions.