The silent struggle of carers

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The UK has an estimated seven million registered carers - that’s a staggering one in 10 people. That number is only set to grow too, and over the next 30 years, it’s anticipated the total will have increased by another 60%. 

As one of those seven million, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to balance caring requirements at home with my professional life.

I am mother to nine year old twins - Alex and Scarlett. Both are funny, cheeky and kind, and I’m incredibly proud of them. I’m also a registered carer as Scarlett has down syndrome. 

When I had Scarlett and her twin Alexander (who is neurotypical), I quickly came to terms with her disability and got stuck into life as a working first time mum. However what I was totally unprepared for as a carer was the endless battle we have to fight to access educational and medical support and ultimately for inclusion in society.


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Over the years, we’ve faced situations where she’s constantly discharged from services which are under-resourced and preoccupied with cost management, we’ve had to wait months - and in some cases years - for access to services like educational psychology support.

She has faced direct discrimination in mainstream education and been unlawfully excluded from the kind of clubs neurotypical children go to every day. 

I wouldn’t change Scarlett for the world. But this battle is incredibly debilitating and has put a strain on my mental health over time. I’ve also been physically exhausted to the point of needing medical assistance at the struggle of juggling work, parenting and day to day life. 

It’s seriously impacted my work as I’ve had to prioritise caring responsibilities at times, despite being lucky enough to have received incredible support from understanding employers. 

Sometimes it’s just impossible to be available enough on all fronts and it’s very difficult to ask for help as it feels like an admission of failure. 

Luckily for me, I have found a role within a company that has gone above and beyond to support me both as an employee, and also as a carer.

Likewise, my position as people and legal director means that I am also able to help create policies and support services for other members of our team in a similar position to me. 

It is down to senior leadership teams and HR directors to firstly recognise, listen and understand the difficulties and challenges carers face - both in and out of the working environment; and secondly to implement effective support frameworks that mean their situation is made more manageable and their mental health is better protected.

Here are my top five recommendations for employers supporting carers: 

  1. Really listen to your employee’s situation (assuming you’ve encouraged them to share with you and they’re happy to do so) and ask them regularly how they are doing outside work.  It can be very difficult to talk about caring challenges and/or to ask for help so creating a safe and trusting space is really important. 

  2. Ensure your organisation has a carer’s policy and family friendly policies in place (like parental leave & dependent leave) and that leadership is promoting and encouraging people to make use of these.
  3. One size doesn’t fit all – each person’s circumstances are different so explore what your employee needs are and ensure you’ve agreed flexible working arrangements. If you spot a pattern like someone is late to work a lot or taking time off at short notice, discuss that in a supportive way with them. Many carers have already done two or three hours “work” getting their dependent ready for the day before they even arrive with you. Medical appointments are also unpredictable and employees may appreciate clear guidance on taking time off in work hours to attend these. `

  4. Ensure you have medical and mental health support for carers in place. 

  5. Form a carer’s support group in work, many people are now facing the double challenge of looking after children and elderly parents so supporting each other through challenges and raising awareness with colleagues can be very beneficial.

 

Kelly Harris is people and legal director at Sanctus