There is a gap in provision for employers and employees who are unpaid carers. This gap could be addressed by my proposal Statutory Care Leave Pay (SCLP), similar to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), before the abolishment of employers being able to recoup the cost from government. There are approximately 13 millions carers in the UK, and only 5 million of them are in paid work.
Every day 600 carers leave work or reduce their hours, citing their caring responsibilities, I am one of them. I am a mother of a disabled child. My working life, since my son was born, and later, my daughters, has followed a cycle. It goes something like this; life feels manageable, I am able to meet the needs of my disabled son and the rest of my family, my son’s medical, educational and social needs are stable. I feel the urge to work, I am an intelligent, driven person who craves the community of work, the opportunity to earn, the chance to be ‘seen’. I manage to persuade a potential employer that the random nature of and gaps in my CV are not problematic, and that the experience, skills and expertise I have gained from being my son’s carer are actually a positive. I get the hard sought, term time only job. Then, perhaps a few months later, an acute care need arises, often in the form surgery or temporary collapse of childcare for my son with complex needs, or maybe a flurry of appointments and meetings for him. This need for my attention and time takes me away from work, I either take unpaid leave (if that is even an option) or be signed off by my GP with ‘stress’. This provides me with a legal framework to protect both me and my employer. It is not a reflection on my ability to do my job, nor a true reflection of what is actually happening. Then the guilt and pressure, lack of empathy from my employer mount up and I resign. I have to reapply for Carers Allowance, Universal Credit etc. A few weeks later, after the dust has settled, in creep the old feelings and need to earn. And thus, the whole sorry saga starts again, each time trying to find a job that will work around my family’s needs, as well as provide me with the opportunities I need to earn and thrive, feels more and more unicorn like.
My experience is not uncommon.
We all know that money makes the world go round, and carers often have very little. The majority of carers rely on the benefits system; Carers Allowance, Universal Credit (encompassing housing benefit and others), Pension Credit. The cost to the state of these benefits, along with loss of tax revenue and earnings if they were employed, is estimated to be £5.3 Billion a year. The government’s own ‘Future of an Ageing Population’ report states that carers are more likely to be….economically inactive. It is inarguably better for working age carers, who need to or wish to, to work.
The cost to carers is far greater than the obvious economic ones; 1.2 million carers live in poverty, Carers Allowance is widely regarded as not fit for purpose and the lowest paid benefit, just £67.25 a week. The other aspects are the emotional, psychological and physical costs, along with all the individual nuanced experiences in between. The majority of carers in a Carers UK poll said they felt their contribution is not understood or valued by the public and society more broadly. They cite loneliness, isolation and societal exclusion. This cannot be a surprise when there is no provision from government to enable this group of resilient, tenacious and hardworking people to remain in employment. The message is clear – you are not worth keeping. This appears to be in direct opposition to the words of the current ruling party’s Amanda Rudd, when she was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, “Good work is good for our mental and physical health, and by working closely with employers we can help prevent the loss of talent when people unnecessarily leave the workplace.”
By introducing a Statutory Care Leave Pay, many of the challenges experienced by both employer and employee would be addressed. Carers surveyed in 2017 said the top three things that would help them to remain in work were; a supportive, understanding manager/employer, the ability to work flexibly and the right to extra paid time off work to care. The SCLP would elevate the status of the pivotal role unpaid carers carry out, saving the economy around £132 billion a year. Their status would be formally and legally recognised as valuable, their contribution to the working world safeguarded. Employers would have state support to retain and pay these employees who temporarily need to carry out extra care. There is no legal requirement for employers to pay an employee for time off to care for a dependant, unless it has been written into their contract, even then it is usually only applicable after a stipulated length of time in service. The SCLP should be accessible to employees and employers from the day their employment begins.
SSP can be claimed for 28 weeks, at a statutory rate of £95.85 (note that this is significantly more than Carers Allowance!) employers are now liable for this cost, but I propose government, not employers, fund SCLP. If each carer in the workplace required per year around a total 6 weeks leave to care at this same rate, the cost is around £2.8 billion – significantly less than the £5.3 billion a year cost of those individuals no longer being employed.
By enshrining carers rights in law in the form of SCLP, and providing the means where the need is so clearly present, the health of carers, the people they care for, their personal finances and the wider economy would be greatly improved. If the government supported carers, perhaps the rest of society would too.