Unpaid carers could benefit from one week of statutory unpaid leave under a proposal expected to be heard by Parliament later this year.
Wendy Chamberlain, a Liberal Democrat MP, has said she intends to introduce a Private Members Bill that would give individuals with caring responsibilities the right to five unpaid days off per year.
If successful, the Carers’ Leave Bill could benefit up to 2.34 million employees who are unpaid carers.
Currently, parents have a right to a total of 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child up to the age of 18. However there is no statutory right to any other unpaid leave to care for other dependants.
Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said that now was a “crucial time” to support carers with their work-life balance. “In the longer term, we would like to see Carers’ Leave paid but passing this Bill would be a very important step in recognising and supporting carers in employment,” she said.
Last year, a government consultation announced that there was support for unpaid leave for carers. The Conservative party also included unpaid carers’ leave in its manifesto. However, the proposed measures were absent in this year’s Queen’s Speech.
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Chamberlain described unpaid carers as “the absolute backbone of our society”, adding that her proposals would “help carers juggle work and care whilst supporting employers to maximise retention and wellbeing”.
Katherine Wilson, head of Employers for Carers, added that carers’ leave would be a “win-win situation” for employers and employees. It can “support and retain key employees in the workplace, helping to keep business going and avoiding extra costs,” she said.
“The most forward-thinking employers go one step further and have provided carers’ leave as a paid entitlement,” Wilson added.
Last week, Carers UK released research that showed one in five UK adults, or 11 million people, support a close friend, relative, or neighbour with a chronic illness.
The same research also found that five million unpaid carers are concerned about their mental or physical health, and two million are worried about their ability to cope financially.