One in nine people in employment are also juggling caring responsibilities – looking after frail parents, loved ones with disabilities, or children with long-term illnesses. Carers up and down the country have told me how difficult it is to keep all the plates spinning. Yet society is still trying to keep up with how to support this army of carers to ensure they can stay in valuable employment.
The recent Carers UK State of Caring report found that too many carers feel unsupported by their colleagues and managers. I want to change this, and I know that there are some excellent employers out there supporting staff with caring responsibilities.
I recently held a roundtable, supported by Employers for Carers, to share practical ideas and feed this into a call for evidence for our national Carers Strategy. I wanted to identify how employers and the government can work together to support carers to enter, remain in, and return to work – which brings benefits to the carers themselves, businesses and the wider economy.
I was struck by the parallels with the flexibility and supportive culture already offered to employees with childcare commitments, those on maternity leave, and those requiring reasonable adjustments. I want to generate a commitment among employers to view the needs of carers in a similar way.
BT is a leader when it comes to supporting carers. It's introduced a carer’s 'passport' so employees can identify their caring responsibilities and agree adjustments with their manager. The BT Carers Network connects those around the company who have caring responsibilities.
Centrica, a company that predicts 60% of its workforce will be carers at some point in their working lives, was one of the first employers to set up a carers’ network. Recognising the value of supporting and retaining carers, the company has developed a pilot to upskill managers to support staff through flexible working arrangements. Overall,it has saved an estimated £4.5 million a year in unplanned leave.
But it’s not just the big corporations who are helping their staff to care. Listawood, a small manufacturing business with around 200 people, has a culture that encourages flexible working and is well-recognised by its employees. Its staff turnover is very low, something it attributes to the culture of flexibility and support for staff to balance their caring responsibilities with their job.
These are just a handful of examples, but I know that there are other employers out there who have made simple but important adjustments to ensure that staff can balance their caring responsibilities with employment. I want to hear from those organisations on what more they think could be done to support carers – they can let me know via our call for evidence.
Capturing this kind of expertise and experience is vital if we are to develop a new national Carers Strategy that both supports carers and benefits employers.
Alistair Burt is minister for community and social care