If any readers of Personnel Today are wavering about whether or not to sign up to the tax breaks for carers campaign, perhaps you should consider the benefits to your business of catering for the needs of staff who also have caring responsibilities.
When I was working full-time as well as caring for my father who had Alzheimer’s disease, my time for coming home was unpredictable. I could never be sure that my father had eaten his evening meals because he couldn’t tell me. I secured the services of a domiciliary care agency to come for 30 minutes each evening to heat up his meal, serve him, ensure he ate, and clear up after the meal. This simple service – which can be provided for by vouchers – enabled me to return home as late as was necessary.
Of the 5.4 million carers in the UK, 1.2 million care for more than 50 hours a week, and another 500,000 care for between 20 and 50 hours a week. Just under 50% of adult carers are in employment. Many carers come to us seeking information and advice, as they have just given up work because they found it too difficult to balance the demands of working and caring. I have always wanted to reach people before they get to this stage so that they can continue to work for longer. That’s why a voucher scheme operated and publicised through employers could be a real breakthrough.
More than three-quarters of carers (79%) feel their health has been affected by their caring role. Caring for someone ought to, like cigarette packets, carry a health warning. The most frequent complaints of carers are stress and depression, formally diagnosed and treated by their own GP. But carers who work, and carers who are able to go to work regularly and spend some time routinely apart from the person they care for, often cope better with their caring role and suffer from lower levels of stress or depression.
However, trying to keep hold of a job and care properly for a dependent family member or friend can also be a difficult balance to maintain. Getting that work-life balance wrong has perhaps even greater consequences for carers than for some other groups of people. So having a scheme that assists with caring can only be beneficial.
Assisting carers to stay in work is also in line with government policy. The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 gives a carer the right to an assessment of their own needs. It says that local authorities, in carrying out this assessment, must recognise a carer’s need to have a life of their own, including the right to work, to recreation and to opportunities for life-long learning. The Work and Families Bill 2006 also addresses the right for carers to request flexible working. From April 2007, this request must be acknowledged and considered and responded to.
The Welfare Reform Green Paper, launched in 2006 by work and pensions secretary John Hutton, talks about the advantages of enabling people to stay in work or to be able to return to work. It is specifically about people on invalidity benefit but, in other listed priority groups of people, carers are recognised as a group that should be assisted to stay in work and to care at the same time. If they have already given up work, they ought to have priority and assistance to help them return to work. Vouchers would further help to achieve this.
Helping carers stay in work benefits employers, too. Carers are often older and more experienced workers, and it is costly and difficult to replace them and their skills. Also, carers are often loyal staff who perform well at work if they are given help to enable them to work and to care.
That’s why we support a scheme to provide tax-free eldercare vouchers through schemes operated by employers.
by Peter Tihanyi, head of policy and partnerships, The Princess Royal Trust for Carers