Two-thirds of working carers have given up career opportunities because of responsibilities, study finds

More employers have implemented flexible working practices since the pandemic, but most carers are still worried about juggling work and care

Two-thirds of working carers have given up work opportunities because of their caring commitments, a study from Carers UK has found.

The survey found that while half (51 per cent) of unpaid carers – people who provide care for someone with disabilities or an elderly relative or loved one – said their line manager was supportive and understanding of their additional responsibilities.

Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of unpaid carers said they had given up opportunities at work because of their caring responsibilities.

The survey of 2,000 working carers found that there had been some progress, with a third (34 per cent) of respondents saying their employer had become more understanding of caring during the pandemic.

The events of the pandemic meant that 4.5 million people in the UK became unpaid carers “virtually overnight”, the study said, with 2.8 million of those juggling work and care.

But despite this, three-quarters (77 per cent) of carers still reported feeling tired at work because of their caring responsibilities; 55 per cent said they felt overwhelmed; and three quarters (75 per cent) felt exhausted.

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Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said that while the pandemic has seen progress in employer perceptions of care, firms could do more to support this group, who are “exhausted and in poorer health”.

She said things like flexible working and carer’s leave – paid or unpaid time off for caring that does not come out of annual leave entitlement – could be a “lifeline” for workers, and was “not only supportive for carers, but makes good business sense too”.

“The other part of the equation is greater investment in care services that carers both need and rely on in order to stay in paid work. There is only so far flexible working from employers can compensate for a lack of good quality care services,” said Walker.

While two-fifths (39 per cent) of unpaid carers had the ability to work from home, only one in five (22 per cent) said they had access to carer's leave.

Additionally, while 20 per cent said that they would be at risk of reducing their hours or giving up work if they did not have access to affordable social care, just 9 per cent of working carers said they had access to this.

According to the study, women were not only more likely to be a carer, but also more likely to juggle part-time work with caring responsibilities. More than two-fifths (42 per cent) of female carers work part-time, compared with just 24 per cent of male carers. Similarly, male carers were more likely than women to work full-time (62 per cent and 42 per cent respectively).

The study, which was released to coincide with Carers’ Rights Day, also found that women have a 50/50 chance of providing unpaid care by the age of 46, while for men this is estimated to happen by the time they reach 57 years of age.

Yvonne Gallagher, employment law partner at Harbottle and Lewis, said that the disproportionate effect of caring responsibilities on women could give rise to claims of indirect discrimination if employers do not take note.

“Demands for flexibility and restructuring of working patterns can often inadvertently impact more heavily on those with caring responsibilities and the risks of claims must be borne in mind when formulating and implementing such proposals,” she explained.

Charlotte Woodworth, gender equality director at Business in the Community, said that the “skyrocketing” number of unpaid carers requires employers to become more “empathetic” in their approach to flexible working arrangements.

“Employers should aim to be transparent in their pay and remuneration, and their workplace policies should reflect this, especially when it comes to carers.

“When £8.2bn could be gained from implementing flexible working opportunities that support carers, this is something that cannot be ignored,” she said.