28.Flexible working “is a way of working that suits an employee’s needs”. It might mean flexible start and finish times, working compressed hours, job sharing or working from home. It does not necessarily mean working less, but working differently. Flexibility can be particularly beneficial to people managing caring responsibilities alongside work. Moira Wilkinson, Network Manager of Carers Trust, a charity, told us that, for many carers in or considering work, “flexibility is the key issue”.
29.We heard evidence, however, that employers are often reluctant to adapt to enable carers to stay in work. Carers UK found that 21% of carers had given up work “because of workplace issues around getting flexible hours or a lack of understanding from their employer”. Research by Aviva, an insurance company that supports flexible working for its employees, found that, across 500 private employers, one in five of the workforce “dare not ask for flexible working”. Carers who request flexible working can be met with hostility from colleagues who assume they are receiving “preferential” or “special” treatment. One carer said the perception that she was “slacking” when allowed to work from home pushed her to work “double time”. She “couldn’t manage and had a breakdown”. A Government survey found that 32% of employees thought that working flexibly would reduce their chances of promotion. This reflects Working Families’ assertion that “old attitudes towards presenteeism and longer hours remain persistent”.
30.The Government’s November 2017 Industrial Strategy argued that “a workplace which is truly flexible can improve productivity”, partly by realising the labour market potential of under-employed groups such as carers. The LSE concurred that offering flexible working was associated with “improved [staff] retention but also higher productivity and good employee relations”. Aviva’s research came to similar findings:
Aviva concluded that “the hard business benefits of initiatives such as flexible working are undeniable”.
31.Some witnesses cautioned that flexible working may not work for every post or every employer. A businesses’ ability to advertise or offer flexible working can depend on its size and the nature of its work. It may be difficult to offer jobs with rigid shift patterns, such as production workers, sales assistants and drivers, on a flexible basis. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said small businesses, which may lack HR resources, “often find the flexible working process bureaucratic”.
32.The FSB also noted, however, that “more and more small firms are embracing flexible working”. These employers were attracted by:
benefits in terms of staff morale and satisfaction, which has a knock-on effect on business productivity, staff recruitment and retention, and ultimately sales and profitability.
Arthur Allen, founder of Listawood, a trade supplies company which employs 120 people, said “I do not buy this argument about small companies or big companies”. Instead, he said that the key to flexible working operating in the interests of both employees and the employer was “organisational culture [ … ] based on mutual trust and respect”. The DWP told us that it was seeking to “drive a cultural change which sees flexible working patterns normalised and the negative attitudes around them lifted”.
33.In its Industrial Strategy, the Government said it would “work with business to make flexible working a reality for all employees across Britain”. This position was reiterated in the DWP’s evidence to our inquiry:
Government calls on firms to make flexible working a reality for all employees by advertising all jobs as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to.
34.Current regulations give employees the right to request flexible working once every 12 months. The employer is not required to accept, but it must handle the request “in a reasonable manner”. To become eligible for this right, however, the employee must first complete 26 weeks of continuous employment. Carers UK said that this period created uncertainty for carers which may put them off working:
Many carers tell us that they cannot find the flexible or part-time style of working which they are looking for. Without knowing that they will have an understanding employer or be able to request flexible working from day one, carers can be worried that they will be unable to balance their working life with caring.
35.Some employers already allow employees to request flexible working from day one. The MS Society argued, however, that “it should not be a case of ‘luck’ that carers are supported in the workplace”. The Minister agreed that employers’ approach to flexible working needs to be “consistent right across the country”. The Government intends to review the Flexible Working Regulations in 2019. Organisations including Carers UK, Age UK and the Young Women’s Trust said there should be a statutory right to request flexible working from day one of employment. Of course, the decision whether to accept the request would still lie with the employer.
36.Flexible working is a crucial factor in many carers being able to juggle caring responsibilities and work. For other carers, work would be an option if they were able to work flexibly. There is a growing body of evidence that flexible working is not just good for the employee, but also highly beneficial to the employer. It is, in many cases, a win-win. We welcome the Government’s support for flexible working and call for equal treatment for all employees. The law is currently, however, at odds with that rhetoric. The statutory six month wait for a right simply to request flexible working creates uncertainty for carers and may discourage them from seeking work. We recommend the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 be amended to ensure the right to request flexible working exists from the first day of employment.
37.Carers can require time off to deal with both expected appointments and unexpected emergencies. Some employers have carer’s leave policies to support staff with such responsibilities. Aviva offers up to 35 hours of paid annual leave for planned events and the same for emergencies. Centrica, a utilities company, matches days of annual leave used by employees for caring with up to one month’s additional paid caring days per year. It told us that it loses “no more carers from our workplace than other employees”. These examples are, however, the exception rather than the rule. Ian Peters and Katherine Wilson, who run the Employers for Carers (EfC) forum, told us that, while carer’s leave was “an issue of increasing interest within EfC”, it is “still relatively rare”.
38.Carers currently have the same statutory entitlement to leave as other employees. A 2013 survey of working carers found 79% had used holiday leave to fulfil caring responsibilities, while 17% had taken sick leave when they were not sick. Bethan Pound told us:
Any leave I had during my work was taken up with appointments, meetings, support groups, consultations, social worker visits and occupational therapists.
The Department appeared to endorse this when it told us that 28 days of paid annual leave “can be used by carers to meet their caring responsibilities”. The Minister declined to answer when we asked her whether this was fair.
39.We were told that having to use annual leave and sick days to fulfil caring responsibilities depletes the time available for carers to have a break and look after themselves. It increases the risk of sickness, exhaustion and “burnout”. Carers UK and Age UK found that of those carers who have given up work, 16% said the leave available was “insufficient to be able to manage caring alongside work”. As we noted in Chapter 1, the loss of established employees can be a major cost to businesses.
40.An international review of rights for carers conducted by Carers UK found that the UK “lags behind” other countries. Japan is a world leader. There, employees can take up to 93 days of long-term family care leave over the lifetime of each family member, at 67% of pay. A proposal for an EU directive on work-life balance would provide five days carer’s leave per year, paid at no lower than sick pay level.
41.The Government has accepted the case for a UK system of carer’s leave. The 2017 Conservative manifesto included the introduction of a statutory entitlement. When giving evidence to our inquiry, the Minister assured us that this remained “an absolute commitment”. The details of that commitment, however, have yet to be confirmed.
42.At the time the Conservative manifesto was launched it was reported that the commitment would be in the form of one year’s unpaid leave. However, Carers UK research found that 48% of carers live on a household income of less than £1,500 per month and 39% of carers said they were “struggling to make ends meet”. Simplyhealth, an insurance company, told us that only 1% of carers think they could afford to stop working or take unpaid leave for a year. We heard that while unpaid leave would provide welcome flexibility to some carers, it alone would be of little consolation to many others.
43.Carer representative groups told us that a system of statutory paid carer’s leave was required. Based on international comparators and the policies already introduced by some employers, Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Carers UK, suggested that between five and ten days a year would be a reasonable limit. Centrica, which offers up to 30 days’ annual carer’s leave, has found that carers take just three days on average.
44.The FSB stressed that small businesses want to support carers, out of both compassion and a recognition of the business benefits. They were concerned, however, about the costs of carer’s leave:
Providing even unpaid leave can create both a cost and administrative challenge for businesses. This is particularly the case for small and micro businesses, who by nature of their size, find it difficult to redeploy staff or hire temporary cover, and need ample lead time to make changes.
A system of paid leave that required employers to meet the costs could create further pressures on small businesses.
45.The FSB told us that proposals for statutory paid parental bereavement leave currently before Parliament provided a model which balanced supporting employees in difficult personal circumstances with the costs facing the employer. Statutory pay, of £145.18 per week in 2018–19, is already available for maternity leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave and adoption leave. The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, which is supported by the Government, would extend further the circumstances in which it could be paid. The Bill would make employees with more than 26 weeks’ service eligible for two weeks’ paid parental bereavement leave at the statutory rate. Employers administer statutory pay on behalf of Government, but can recover payments from HMRC. Small employers can recover 103% of statutory pay—more than they paid out—while large employers can recover 92%.
46.Carers sometimes need time away from work to carry out their caring responsibilities. Too many carers find meeting these demands, which can be sudden, are incompatible with work. Others use annual holiday or take sick days for what can be immensely stressful caring work. Carers, employers and the wider economy benefit from supporting carers to remain employed during times of difficulty. We therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to introducing a system of statutory carer’s leave.
47.Statutory unpaid leave would be a welcome solution for some carers but simply unaffordable to many others. An existing model of parental leave, paid at a statutory rate, already assists parents while providing compensation to employers, including special assistance for small businesses. In supporting the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, the Government has demonstrated a willingness to extend this assistance into further circumstances. There is a strong case for five days’ statutory paid carer’s leave based on the existing statutory leave system. We recommend the Government introduce this policy when resources allow and provide a full impact assessment for such a policy in response to this report.
60 HM Government, , accessed 14 May 2018
61 Q2 (Moira Wilkinson)
62 Q2 (Moira Wilkinson)
63 Carers UK, , accessed 14 May 2018
64 Aviva plc
65 Cystic Fibrosis Trust (, North Tyneside Carers Centre
66 Cystic Fibrosis Trust
67 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, , July 2012
68 Working Families
69 HM Government, , November 2017
70 London School of Economics
71 Aviva plc
72 Aviva plc
73 Work Foundation ), Ian Peters and Katherine Wilson ), Forum of Private Business ), Federation of Small Businesses
74 Federation of Small Businesses
75 Federation of Small Businesses
76 Q44 (Arthur Allen)
77 Q44 (Arthur Allen)
78 Department for Work and Pensions
79 HM Government, , November 2017
80 Department for Work and Pensions
81 The Flexible Working Regulations 2014 ()
82 The Flexible Working Regulations 2014 ()
83 Carers UK
84 MS Society
85 Q132 (Sarah Newton MP)
86 Carers UK (), Age UK (), Young Women’s Trust ()
87 Aviva plc
90 Ian Peters and Katherine Wilson
91 Age UK
92 Q68 (Bethan Pound)
93 Department for Work and Pensions
94 Q128 (Andrew Bowie MP)
95 Q31 (Fiona Malpas), Q4 Emily Holzhausen OBE, Mark Brightburn
96 Carers UK , Ian Peters and Katherine Wilson , Support Wiltshire ), Bournemouth and Poole Local Authorities , Carers network University of Bristol , Q4 Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director, Carers UK
97 Carers UK )
98 Ian Peters and Katherine Wilson )
99 Carers UK )
100 Hideki Nakazato and Junko Nishimura, Japan country note, in Sonja Blum et al, , June 2017. Family members include a spouse, parents, children, parents-in-law, grandparents, siblings, and grandchildren. Leave can be taken for each occurrence of a condition where the subject family member requires constant care for a period of two weeks or more due to serious illness or disability. The 93 days can be divided into three periods or fewer.
101 Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on work-life balance for parents and carers and repealing Council Directive 2010/18/EU,
103 Q129 (Sarah Newton MP)
104 , BBC, 15 May 2017
105 Carers UK
107 Simplyhealth (), Carer Support Wiltshire ()
108 Carers UK (), Carer Support Wiltshire (), Age UK (), Bournemouth and Poole Local Authorities (),
109 Q2 (Emily Holzhausen OBE)
111 Federation of Small Businesses
112 Federation of Small Businesses
113 Federation of Small Businesses
114 , 7 February 2018
115 HM Government, , 4 January 2018
116 Or 90% of average earnings if that is lower. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, , October 2017
117 HM Government, , accessed 14 May 2018. Large employers are currently defined as those with a Class 1 National Insurance contributions bill of £45,000 or more.
Published: 17 May 2018