Working carers. The challenges and new opportunities
As a veteran working carer of over 50 years, I warmly welcome TLAP’s and ADASS’s joint initiative to put carers firmly on employers’ agendas and future work plans.
In my working life, I have seen the childcare debate virtually won. The business case has been made for supporting (and thereby retaining) parents in the workplace. But children grow up and demographic challenges begin. Children, if disabled like my son, will continue to need care and support. Parents and other relatives get older and suddenly we are ‘sandwich carers’, driving up motorways, juggling hospital appointments and complicated medication regimes with employment – and of course we have to find good replacement care.
We know that around 54% of carers give up employment because of the struggles to find suitable support and lack of employer awareness of their needs. We also know that this matters for employers who often lose skilled workers at the height of their careers and who are hard to replace. Centrica (2016) estimates that they saw a potential saving of £2.5million through supporting staff who care. BT in turn estimates that they have seen a 21% increase in productivity through supporting carers, with reduced workplace stress and absenteeism.
There is a strong business case for proactive policies and practice towards carers in the workplace. Demographic change underlines the challenges – one in nine of us now care for another person and 6,000 new carers are identified every day. But (with some notable exceptions) employers have not historically played a major role in the debate about what carers themselves want and need in order to carry on working and caring.
Now we have Top Tips for Supporting Working Carers with a range of practical advice on creating a carer-friendly workplace and thereby also maximising the efficiency and the smooth running of the business itself. As the parent of a disabled child and as a Commissioner with the Disability Rights Commission, I know that good solutions for employees with some additional needs is always possible -providing that we have the confidence and the information to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ and we work together to ‘co-produce’ good solutions. Co-production of course is not only about the relationship between the carer and the employer. It is also about developing the local market place for care and support with the local authority, the NHS and partners in the third sector. It means working with the local networks of small businesses, the trade unions and other partners with much to contribute. And, as a final reflection, it means thinking positively and creatively about valuing those of us who care in the workplace. There are exciting new ways of supporting carers (eg through new technology. I wouldn’t manage without telecare but so few carers know enough about its potential).
But I end with a final thought on co-production because in an ageing society, new partnerships between carers, employers, the public and third sectors will be increasingly important. In effect, supporting working carers is everybody’s business if we value the healthy, emotional and economic well-being of our communities.