Claire Morgan argues that employers have a crucial role to play in keeping carers in work
Most people’s lives will include at least one episode of caring.
Already 1 in 9 of the workforce is caring for someone and 90% of working carers are aged 30 plus, employees in their prime employment years. Carers work in every industry, at every level and are in almost all workplaces across Wales. With so many people in the workforce having a caring role, it is critical that we consider the needs of working carers for both their own wellbeing and in the interests of the economy. In the current economic climate, with fewer young people entering the job market and people working for longer, there has never been a more important time to focus on the benefits of retaining skilled workers, rather than incurring the costs of recruiting and retraining new staff.
The peak age for caring is 45-64 when many employees will have gained valuable skills and experience. However, caring can affect people’s ability to stay in work. Quite often the impact of caring means that carers opt to give up work completely, with 47% surveyed in the 2017 Carers UK State of Caring Report doing just this. The research showed of those who gave up work, retired early or reduced working hours, 69% said the stress of juggling work and care was a contributing factor. Reducing hours or giving up work can leave carers financially far worse off and vulnerable to accruing unmanageable debt, as well as potentially making them increasingly isolated from their peers.
Caring is different from mainstream childcare and needs a separate response from employers. Caring for a sick or disabled relative or friend – for example, as a result of an accident or stroke – can happen overnight, and can be unpredictable. Caring milestones are different too – a disabled child may still be at home with parents as a disabled adult. Caring often ends with a move to residential care or bereavement, bringing its own complicated mix of emotions such as sadness, relief and guilt. Carers need employers to understand and be supportive of their needs, to enable them to have the confidence and resilience to seek, secure and retain employment.
Interviews undertaken by Carers Wales in 2018 clearly identified the benefits of supporting working carers. When a carer feels supported in the workplace; working while caring can have a positive impact on the carer, the cared for person and others in the care circle. Carers spoke about their increased self-esteem, the pleasure the whole family derived from sharing news about their day and having new things to talk about. Working didn’t reduce the level of busyness, but being out of the house with something else to think about was motivating, energising and good for their mental health and the family environment. One carer said:
“Going out and meeting other people, having adult conversation making those social connections that are so important. As a carer it’s very easy to become isolated, where you only see the cared for person one or your immediate family maybe, a conversation down the shop and that would be it. Well, now I’m having all sorts of conversations with all different types of people from different backgrounds, five days a week”.
Another carer reflected:
“Carers want to see just a little bit of leeway given for having to attend Doctor’s appointments and various other bits and bobs. If they can catch the work up in another way, then let them- they will catch it up. They won’t let you down, they’re not taking the mick or pushing their luck! You can work with them to support them and they will pay you back. They’re grateful for being allowed to do their jobs and for being allowed to have their identities”.
If employers can learn to embrace the opportunities presented by supporting working carers, it can be truly transformational leading to the retention of highly skilled staff, reduced absenteeism and an increase in morale and productivity.
Employers are being urged to identify carers in their workforce and offer help and support. Employers for Carers (EfC) is operated by Carers UK and was established in 2009. It is a membership scheme that provides practical advice and support for employers. Carers Wales is launching its Wales Hub of Employers for Carers, as a response to the needs of employers in Wales. Backed by Welsh Government and its commitment to giving carers ‘a life outside caring’, the service will deliver hands-on advice to employers on how to support the 180,000+ of working carers in Wales.
Carers give so much to society, yet as a consequence of caring they can experience ill health, poverty and discrimination. We want to ensure employers have the tools available to support their employees who are carers. This will ultimately mean that working carers feel recognised for their contribution at work and to society more widely.
This series of articles to mark Carers Week have been guest edited by Kate Cubbage.
All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.