Carers and employment
It is estimated that five million people juggle work and care in the UK – one in seven in every workplace – and this figure is set to increase. A growing number of people are playing a dual role in balancing their jobs with their caring responsibilities.
Why employment is important to carers
Having the opportunity to work is an important part of life, and one that most of us take for granted. In addition to providing financial stability, it is widely recognised that employment brings wider benefits in terms of a fulfilling career, positive mental health and social interaction.
For carers, work can often represent a lifeline, not only financially, but in providing a life outside of caring. Being able to access and sustain employment enables carers to subsequently be in a better position to provide care for their loved ones.
Juggling work and caring responsibilities can be challenging and extremely stressful, with many carers unable to sustain their careers. This can lead to financial hardship and move carers and their families into a dependent relationship with benefits.
Without support and understanding at work, carers can suffer from high levels of stress and exhaustion. The effects of this can be damaging both in the workplace and at home.
Caring is often a hidden issue in the workplace, but it doesn’t have to be. Talking to your employer about your caring role could lead to better support in your workplace. However, it is up to you whether you tell your employer you are a carer and what information you share.
Caring for a sick or disabled person is different from caring for children. It can happen overnight, without any or much warning; it can be hard to plan and cope with emotionally, and can involve a series of milestones which result in the need for varying intensities and levels of caring.
The Work and Families Act 2006 gives carers the right to request flexible working. Since 2007, this legislation has applied to carers, and to parents of children under the age of 17, or 18 if the child is disabled. From the end of June 2014 this right was extended to all employees.
To be eligible, employees must have been employed for at least 26 weeks, and can apply for a change in their terms and conditions (only once per year, or if circumstances suddenly alter). Employers can refuse this request, but only on the grounds of a good business case, for reasons specified in the legislation. Employees have a further chance to appeal against this decision.
All employees also have the right to take time off for emergencies to respond to unexpected situations involving a dependant (someone they look after). This is regardless of how long they have worked for their employer.
Time off is unpaid, but at the discretion of the employer, can be, and often is, paid. Employees should inform their employer/line manager as soon as possible following the emergency.
A dependant includes a husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with the employee as part of their family. It can also include others who rely on the employee for help in an emergency.
Leave might be taken in situations including:
- A disruption or breakdown in care arrangements (e.g, a nurse or care worker fails to arrive)
- When a dependant becomes ill, has been assaulted or involved in an accident (this can include more than just a physical injury)
- To make arrangements for the longer-term care of a dependant who is ill or injured (but not to provide long term care themselves)
- The death of a dependant
Employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months (continuous service) are entitled to Parental Leave if they are responsible for a child under the age of five, or under 18 if the child receives Disability Living Allowance. This provides:
- 13 weeks (unpaid) parental leave per child to look after their child, or
- 18 weeks (unpaid) parental leave per child to look after their disabled child.
Leave can be taken in blocks of one week up to a maximum of four weeks leave in a year (for each child); or in one day, or multiples of a day if the leave is to care for a disabled child. Again, employers may have developed entitlement within their organisation to extend beyond this minimum requirement.
For parents of a child in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, leave may be taken any time up to the child’s 18th birthday.
The British Institute of Human Rights have produced a concise guide containing practical information on how the Human Rights Act is relevant to you and the person you care for.
The guide outlines and explains your human rights, as protected by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. Its aim is to help you understand how human rights relate to your caring role, and how they can be used to stand up for your rights and the rights of the person you care for.
It includes accessible explanations of the law, examples and real case studies, to show how human rights can empower people in their discussions with public services.
Download Your human rights – a pocket guide for carers from the British Institute of Human Rights website.
The Equality Act 2010 protects people against direct discrimination or harassment due to their caring responsibilities. Because carers are ‘associated’ with someone who is protected by the law because of their age or disability, they are also thereby protected by the Equality Act.
Employers cannot therefore discriminate against carers or subject them to harassment.
This would include:
- not offering someone a job because of their caring responsibilities
- not offering someone a promotion because of their caring responsibilities
- Carers Trust: Useful resources. Working for carers handbook
- Carers UK: Working and caring advice
- Skills for Care: Balancing work and care: A carer’s guide
If you are thinking about giving up work, ask for a carer’s assessment or re-assessment if you have already had one. If your job is seriously at risk because of the pressures of caring, the council will need to look at what help it can provide to enable you to continue working.
The Care Act (2014)
The Care Act 2014 came into force in April 2015, with some elements coming into force in April 2016.
It put in place significant new rights for carers in England including:
- A focus on promoting wellbeing.
- A duty on local councils to prevent, reduce and delay need for support, including the needs of carers.
- A right to a carer’s assessment based on the appearance of need.
- A right for carers’ eligible needs to be met.
- A duty on local councils to provide information and advice to carers in relation to their caring role and their own needs.
- A duty on NHS bodies (NHS England, clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts) to co-operate with local authorities in delivering the Care Act functions.
Taken together, these new rights should have a significant impact on carers and the support available for carers. However, this is dependent on local councils putting these rights in place.
Further information about the Act, and a useful series of factsheets, are available from the Department of Health and Social Care.