A quarter of working carers have considered giving up their job as they struggle to cope with juggling paid work and unpaid caring responsibilities, according to research.
The study by the CIPD and the University of Sheffield of working carers – employed people who also provide regular support to a relative or acquaintance as a result of old age, physical illness or mental health problems – indicated almost half (44 per cent) are struggling to cope with the pressures of their job and unpaid caring responsibilities. This equates to around 1.6 million people in England and Wales. As a result, 24 per cent said they had considered giving up their job entirely.
The report, Supporting working carers, compiled the experiences of 970 employees who were balancing paid work with unpaid care commitments. Three in 10 (30 per cent) of those surveyed reported reducing their working hours because of caring responsibilities, and more than a third (36 per cent) decided against applying for a job, or refused a job offer or promotion, because of a fear it would interfere with their caring role.
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Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said conversations about health conditions and vulnerable household members during the coronavirus crisis meant that businesses were gaining a true understanding of how many workers have caring responsibilities. She urged employers to not “miss this opportunity” to talk to staff about how the organisation can help them balance caring commitments with paid work.
“When working carers feel well supported by their employers, they are more likely to experience better wellbeing and are less likely to consider reducing their hours or quitting their job,” McCartney said. “Employers can address these issues by making sure they have a clear carer policy or guidance, by supporting flexible working and providing paid carers’ leave.”
She added that such support for carers would also benefit employers that may otherwise struggle to retain staff or see a drop in productivity.
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In March, the government opened a consultation on proposals to give employees a week of unpaid leave each year to provide care. The consultation, which is set to close in August, will explore how working carers use existing employment rights; who should be eligible to take the leave; what the leave can be taken for; and the costs and benefits to employers and employees.
But the CIPD has called for the introduction of an annual entitlement for eligible staff to be able to take five days’ statutory paid carers’ leave. Currently, some employers offer a leave entitlement for caring responsibilities, but this is often unpaid. The CIPD argued this unpaid leave resulted in some workers being unable to meet financial obligations, and paid leave entitlement would address some of the issues presented to those struggling to balance paid work with caring commitments.
The research found only 9 per cent of working carers were able to take paid leave to fulfil caring responsibilities, despite 40 per cent desiring such support from their employer. Almost half (46 per cent) had to use their own annual leave entitlement to provide care.
Professor Sue Yeandle, director of the Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities at the University of Sheffield, said the daily struggles faced by working carers were “strikingly evident” and had a negative impact on both individuals and organisations. But she said it also showed how good workplace support can make a positive difference to those struggling to balance caring and work commitments.
“It [employer support] enables working carers to cope, to take fewer days of extra leave, to feel less stressed and healthier and to concentrate better at work,” Yeandle said. “It’s time to ensure all employers offer such support, and that every employee can access paid carers’ leave. It makes good sense for business. It makes sound economic sense.”
Madeleine Starr, director of business development and innovation at Carers UK, said that, in the months since the coronavirus outbreak began, millions more workers across the UK had started caring for someone who was older, disabled or seriously ill, and the situation was "now common among staff".
“For most people, juggling a job and caring for a loved one is incredibly demanding and, without support from employers, it can be too much to manage," Starr said. "For the benefit of carers and to help keep the UK’s economy moving, the government must recognise the pressures facing a swathe of workers and introduce a right to five days of paid care leave.”
The research also found more than a quarter (28 per cent) of working carers had not spoken to anyone at work about their caring responsibilities, and 39 per cent said they did not believe anything would change if they did talk about their commitments at work.
Additionally, three in five reported that combining paid employment with their caring role had increased their levels of stress or anxiety at work, with only 11 per cent reporting it had no effect on their mental wellbeing.
Those who felt supported by their employers reported higher wellbeing (43 per cent), compared with just 31 per cent in organisations providing no support. Nearly half (45 per cent) of those working in the third sector reported feeling supported by their employer when their caring responsibilities affected their job. Only 40 per cent of working carers in the public sector and 38 per cent in the private sector felt their organisation was supportive of their caring commitments.