The Civil Service has long had policies and practices in place to support all staff with caring responsibilities. It has supported the 1999 National Carers Strategy, in which there is a chart showing the ‘carer-friendly’ working arrangements offered to staff in 15 departments and agencies.
The Civil Service also supports the provisions of the Work and Families Act 2006, which maintained the right of parents and carers of children to request flexible working and extended this right to carers of adults from April 2007.
What is a carer?
Carers look after family, partners or friends in need of support because they are ill, frail or have a disability. They provide unpaid care and often combine their responsibilities with work commitments. Many people with childcare responsibilites also consider themselves as carers.
It can be a lonely responsibility and a heavy one. Unlike childcare, where the responsibilities generally decrease with time, the amount of care needed for ill or frail individuals can increase, as the person being cared for may deteriorate. It will often only decrease or end if they move into full-time residential care or when the person dies.
At some stage in their lives, a carer can find a dual caring role – with both children and sick or elderly relatives to look after at the same time. In extreme cases, there could also be a partner with a disability or in poor health.
Carers need flexibility from their employer – they may even need to give up their job temporarily. It’s more likely to happen later in someone’s career, so can mean their employer loses an experienced and senior member of staff.
The effect on our economy
The demographics of the population are changing. By 2030 more than 30% of the population will be over 60. In the next 30 years, there could be a 60% increase in the demand for support from carers. At the same time the economy will need an additional 2 million workers. With the implementation of the Age Discrimination legislation in 2006, people will be working beyond “normal” retirement age at a time when caring responsibilities increase.
Key facts and figures
The 2001 Census showed:
- there were 4.27 million carers of working age in Great Britain
- 66% of carers, representing 2.83 million people, were also in paid employment
- over 1.5 million carers worked full-time, with almost 185,000 caring for 50+ hours per week
- 90% of working carers were aged 30+, in their prime employment years.
Working carers can pay a penalty in terms of their own health, with those with heavy caring responsibilities two to three times more likely than workers without caring responsibilities to be in poor health.
The ACE National Partnership, led by Carers UK, is working to support the inclusion of carers in training and work, funded by the European Social Fund Equal Programme. The Partnership has reported widely on employment and caring.
What you can do
- Discuss your employees’ needs with them – for example, they might need to call home during the day.
- Understand that work may be their only respite from caring.
It’s important to appreciate that caring will often only end when the person being cared for dies or has to move into a care home. Remember that, if this happens, the carer may be grieving or feel guilty that they have had to move a loved one into full-time care.
- Encourage staff to be open with their problems, and offer support and understanding if they are.
- Be flexible with leave and working patterns as per parental and caring legislation – and your department’s guidelines.
- Ensure staff are aware of their entitlement to special leave.
Your department or agency will offer specific guidance on any other internal support available for carers. Further guidance is provided by several organisations, including internal departmental staff caring networks.
What you can do
Know the guidelines:
- Make sure you understand the provision in the Work and Families Act 2006 to request flexible working arrangements, and the process for applying.
- Applications should be made to your manager, who will consider the request.
- You may find it useful to speak with your manager in advance of any application.
Even if you’re not intending to apply for flexible working arrangements, you can still get help and support at work.
- Consider telling your manager about your responsibilities. They may be able to offer some support.
- Talk to other carers, for mutual help and support.
- Use the welfare and support services available through departments.
- Find out if your department or agency has a support network for carers – many departments do and it’s a good forum for support and advice.
- Check out the information and guidance available on departmental internet sites and through external organisations such as Carers UK
As a carer, you can also ask for time off in emergencies. You can find full details of your rights in the guidance documents produced by Carers UK, available on their website.
- The Department of Health published the National Strategy for Carers in 1999.
- The Employment Relations website at Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform shows the legal right to time off in an emergency involving someone who depends on you, and the legal right of carers to ask for flexible working.
- Carers UK is a partnership website to provide national and local information to carers, those supporting them and other interested parties
- The Women Returners Network is a national charity which helps women return to work after a career break.