Employment support for carers Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Benefits system

1.The current Carer’s Allowance system includes a cliff edge. Claimants can lose their entire weekly Carer’s Allowance of £64.60 by earning just £1 over the threshold. This is an outdated anomaly in the benefits system and counter to the Government’s objective of making work pay. The introduction of Universal Credit will resolve this problem for some claimants. However, it will be several years before Universal Credit is fully operational and even when it is, some Carer’s Allowance claimants will not receive Universal Credit. The Government already has a solution for work incentive cliff edges in the taper it uses for Universal Credit. Coherence and fairness in the benefits system dictates Carer’s Allowance should be withdrawn at the same rate. We recommend that the Government introduce a taper for Carer’s Allowance at the same rate as used for Universal Credit. (Paragraph 16)

2.A taper for Carer’s Allowance will remove many of the work disincentives currently built into the benefit. There will continue to be problems, however, for as long as the threshold for removing or reducing Carer’s Allowance is below 16 hours at the National Living Wage. While the 16 hour eligibility rule in Working Tax Credit will be removed by Universal Credit, the transition between those two benefits will not be complete for several years. Regardless, a similar 16 hour rule remains in eligibility for free childcare. For parents who both work and care, a pay rise could mean they lose their benefit and must reassess the precarious balance between their commitments. Parent carers considering work can face a disincentive to take a job. The Government should seek to eradicate such barriers in its quest to make work pay. We recommend a link between the National Living Wage and the Carer’s Allowance earnings threshold. For as long as 16-hour rules exist in the benefits system, the Carer’s Allowance threshold should be equivalent to no less than 16 hours at the National Living Wage. (Paragraph 21)

3.The life of a carer can be very complex. This complexity is only added to by the intricacies of the benefits system. Information and support for carers is, however, very patchy. Some carers do not even realise they are carers. Others have contact with the benefits system or other public services, but valuable opportunities to offer or signpost assistance are missed. (Paragraph 26)

4.We recommend a series of simple steps to improve support for carers:

Employment policy

5.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. (Paragraph 36)

6.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. (Paragraph 46)

7.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. (Paragraph 47)

Government as a model employer

8.The rhetoric of flexibility is widespread, but the practical reality is often quite different. The Government is right to recognise the need for cultural change in employer attitudes. Without cultural change, welcome and well-intentioned policies, such as carer’s policies and passports, will have limited impact. Too often, steps such as offering flexible working arrangements are seen as favours to carers. Designing and advertising jobs as flexible by default sends a strong message to prospective employees that work can adapt to home lives, to mutual benefit. It disassociates flexible working from carers, older workers, disabled people and women, and recognises the benefits in relation to the entire workforce, employers and the economy. (Paragraph 55)

9.The Government must adjust policies and legislation to support carers in employment. But it also has a vital role as an employer in leading by example, and extolling the benefits of employing carers to businesses and other partners. Several examples of best practice that came to light during our inquiry were from within the Civil Service. But we were both surprised and disappointed that just six government departments are members of the Employers for Carers forum and only five have specific carer policies. We welcome the employer benchmarking scheme commissioned by the Government as a means of driving change. Every department should be targeting the highest level of recognition. (Paragraph 56)

10.We recommend that Government adopts an approach to employing carers in line with existing best practice, including membership of Employers for Carers and the Happy to Talk Flexible Working scheme. We further recommend that Government collect and publish information on each department’s support for carers in their employment policies and practices. This should be published annually and should include:

Published: 17 May 2018