Who takes care of in-work carers?

May 18, 2017

David Grayson explains why supporting carers in their places of work is a crucial, but often overlooked, part of diversity and inclusion policies. He outlines five practical steps employers can take to ensure that they operate as responsible organisations.

I have the privilege of chairing the charity Carers UK, which is more than fifty years old and works for a society which respects, values and supports carers. One of our current priorities is working and caring. Three million Britons are currently juggling working and caring. The average workforce has one in nine employees who are also carers. If you expect the typical line-manager to have ten direct reports, then most line-managers will have at least one working carer on their team.

According to the last census in 2011, 6.5 million Britons are caring for a loved one. This may be an elderly parent, a partner with a long-term condition; or a disabled son, daughter or sibling.  During 2017, over 2 million people will become a carer and a slightly smaller number will come to the end of their Caring Journey. For some of us, it is very sudden and obvious when our Caring Journey starts: a loved one has a bad accident or is diagnosed with a serious illness. In many other cases, however, caring dependency slowly develops as the condition of the person who we are caring deteriorates.

Over the next two decades, the number of carers in the UK is expected to grow to 9 million. On top of this, over 1 million people care for more than one person. Rosalynn Carter – the former First Lady of the USA and founder of The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving – says: “There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.” In other words, caring affects the lives of everyone.

A carer I recently met in Leeds explained, “I never thought of myself as a carer, I was just looking after our dad”. Many people like this remain hidden carers for a long time – sometimes throughout their entire Caring Journey.  Unidentified carers are bad news. Half of carers (52%) surveyed by Carers UK, said missing out on support as a result of not identifying as a carer impacted negatively on their finances and a similar number (50%) said it had an impact on their physical health. Nine in ten (91%) of carers said they missed out on financial or practical support (or both) as a result of not identifying as a carer. Three quarters of carers (78%) said missing out on support as a result of not identifying as a carer meant they suffered from stress and anxiety. Two in five carers (42%) said missing out on support as a result of not identifying as a carer caused them to give up work to care.

Employers are a good channel to reach carers. They also have a crucial role to play in making it possible for carers to stay in work. This is good for employers, good for their employee carers and good for society. Supporting working carers is a crucial part of diversity and inclusion. I am very clear: helping working carers is also an integral part of being a responsible employer and, therefore, a responsible organisation.

Just as it has taken time for organisations to see disability or LGBT rights or helping older workers to enjoy fuller, longer working lives as key parts of disability and inclusion, so now this includes caring for working carers.

I have an action checklist for employers large and small, public, private and Third Sector: the 5Ps for being a great employer for working carers.

  • Identify working carers
  • Consult them on what would be most helpful and on how best to find hidden carers
  • Look at what other employers are doing for their working carers
  • Carer-proof existing policies such as flexible working and leave
  • Adopt a specific Carer Policy, cross-eferencing to other HR policies and practice
  • Introduce Carer Leave
  • Use existing externally-organised events such as a Carers Rights Day or Carers Week (where they exist) to promote Carer policy – or help to create such profile-raising events
  • Publicise support for carers through regular communications with employees
  • Encourage leaders to “come out” about their own caring roles
  • Introduce a Carer Passport
  • Include emergency back-up care for if employee’s regular (elder)care arrangements break down
  • Make reasonable adjustments such as reserved parking spaces or allowing use of mobile phone for carers
  • Provide advice & information for carers on the organisation’s Intranet, link to external help such as carers’ organisations and condition-specific charities which also offer help to carers of someone with the condition
  • Train line-managers on caring for carers and how to raise the issue sensitively with their direct reports and their reports
  • Create /support an employee carers network, alongside networks for disabled, LGBT etc
  • Exchange learning and experience with other employers informally or through representative employer groups and/or dedicated networks of employers of carers.

David Grayson is Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management and Chairman of Carers UK. His latest book: “Take Care: How to be a great employer for working carers” is published by Emerald in July: