Three in five (60 per cent) working carers had to use their annual leave last year to look after an ill, elderly or disabled family member, partner or friend, research has found.
A poll by savings and retirement firm Phoenix found carers used on average six days of their holiday entitlement to help them juggle work and caring responsibilities, prompting calls from the company for the government to roll out extra statutory leave for carers as soon as possible.
Legislation cementing statutory rights for working carers, which includes five extra days’ unpaid leave a year, is currently under consultation. Andy Briggs, CEO of Phoenix and the government’s business champion for older workers, called on the government to “accelerate legislation on statutory leave for those carers who want to continue to work, while caring for someone who depends on them”. He added that “just like working parents, working carers face ongoing challenges as a result of their commitments and need specific support”.
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The survey polled a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 UK adults, 169 (8.4 per cent) of whom were working carers. It found almost two-thirds of working carers (63 per cent) said they could be forced to give up their existing employment because of a lack of support and flexibility from their employer.
Almost one in five (19 per cent) of all workers polled said their employer currently offered carers additional leave, and more than half (52 per cent) said they would struggle financially if caring for a loved one meant they could no longer work.
Seven in 10 respondents (71 per cent) said they supported the idea of statutory carers’ leave. While the government doesn’t currently plan to oblige employers to make extra carers’ leave paid, more than two in five (43 per cent) respondents also supported such leave being paid.
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“With an ageing society, more and more people will have caring responsibilities, and if they're not already providing support, employers really do need to be going forward,” said Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser at the CIPD. She said making extra leave a paid entitlement for carers was important, because of the financial burden often shouldered by working carers. However, she added that wider support was also needed from employers – a framework for which is set out in a forthcoming report on the topic from the CIPD and the University of Sheffield.
McCartney emphasised the importance of employers “having a clear definition of what it means to be a carer, because quite often carers themselves might not identify themselves as carers”. She said training line managers on the issue and listening to each working carer’s needs was also important, as these could vary from person to person.
Madeleine Starr, director of business development and innovation at Carers UK, said the coronavirus pandemic had “shone a light” on the huge number of people trying to juggle their work with caring responsibilities, and urged the government and employers to increase support for working carers as companies began to bring people back to workplaces.
“It is crucial that employees with caring responsibilities get dedicated support and we have long campaigned to get them a right to at least five days of care leave, ideally paid,” she said. “This would support the economy: helping to keep more people in work, and ensure carers’ health and wellbeing is also looked after.”
Laura Bennett, head of policy and external affairs at the Carers Trust, agreed that creating statutory support for carers as quickly as possible was important. “The government’s extended consultation on unpaid carers’ leave must be completed and acted upon urgently, so that carers can be supported back to work after the crisis,” she said. She added that the issue was particularly important for older working carers, who were vulnerable to being forced into retirement before they were ready.