Most people will be carers at some stage in their lives. The responsibility is often assumed without question. Carers are simply doing the only thing imaginable: looking after a partner, parent, friend or disabled child who cannot cope without their support. Balancing care with paid employment is a tricky juggling act, which gets the better of many, causing them to reduce their hours or give up work. This is costly to the carer, who can lose financial security, and to their employer, who loses their skills and experience and may well need to recruit a replacement. These costs also extend to the wider economy—productivity, and ultimately tax revenues, suffer from people who want to work, or work more, being avoidably unable to do so. Carers must be better supported to stay in, or enter, employment. Our report sets out how this can be achieved.
Many carers rely on the support of Carer’s Allowance, which is currently £64.60 per week. This benefit is withdrawn in full if an earnings threshold of £120 a week is breached, meaning that working additional hours can leave carers worse off. A pay rise can leave parents facing the choice between losing Carer’s Allowance and losing free childcare for their three or four-year-old which requires them to work 16 hours a week. These benefits system cliff edges are contrary to the Government’s objective of ensuring work always pays. Universal Credit will remove disincentives to work for many carers. But it will be several years before Universal Credit is fully rolled out and, regardless, some carers will still face cliff edges. We recommend Carer’s Allowance is withdrawn gradually as income rises, in line with the Universal Credit taper system. We further recommend that the earnings threshold is linked to rises in the National Living Wage.
Carers lead complex lives in which time is precious. But obvious opportunities to help them are being missed. These are as simple as providing complete information on the gov.uk website and making basic guidance available in Jobcentres and GPs’ surgeries. We recommend steps to improve information and support for carers.
Having flexibility over when, where or how a job is done can be a critical factor in carers’ ability to juggle care and work. In fact, any employee can benefit from flexibility and so too can employers. The Government is already pushing for wider acceptance of flexible working, but the rules are at odds with its rhetoric. The right to request flexible working only kicks in after six months of continuous employment. But more carers could be encouraged to enter the workforce if they could request such arrangements from day one. We recommend amending the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 to ensure a day one right to request flexible working for all employees.
Supporting carers during times of difficulty is beneficial to carers and employers alike. Too many carers are currently forced to use annual leave or sick days to fulfil caring responsibilities. The Government has accepted the case for statutory carer’s leave, but to ensure such a provision is affordable for all carers, it must be paid time off. The system of statutory pay for parental leave works well for employees and employers alike. The Government’s backing for the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill currently before Parliament shows its willingness to extend this model to support people in other circumstances. We recommend the Government introduce five days’ paid carer’s leave when resources allow and provide a full impact assessment for such a policy in response to this report.
Our recommendations will only go so far in the absence of a wider cultural shift. The Government has an important role to play, not just as a policy-maker, but as an employer. It should lead by example and, by sharing the benefits of its approach, encourage more employers to follow suit. Government departments should all adopt best practice in supporting the carers they employ, including participating in the Employers for Carers forum and using the Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline for job vacancies. We further recommend the Government encourage improvements by publishing departmental statistics relating to flexible working, carer’s leave, carer’s policies and levels of attainment in the new employer benchmarking scheme.
We know that the Government shares our admiration for the hard work and devotion of the UK’s 6.5 million unpaid carers. It is moving in the right direction to support them better in employment. But actions speak louder than words. It is time for the Government both to instigate real policy change and to take up the mantle of a model employer in supporting carers at work.
Published: 17 May 2018