The UK’s six million unpaid carers save the economy an estimated £57bn each year, with half of these – around 12% of the total workforce – juggling work and care responsibilities.
The largest percentage of carers look after the elderly. Their rights in particular will become an ever more pressing issue as the UK’s population ages. The European Union estimates that the number of people aged 80 and over in the UK will increase from 2.4 million in 2000 to 3.5 million in 2025.
Campaign groups have warned that key staff are being forced to leave employment to take up full-time caring roles, or are having to combine work and care with little support from employers or government.
No policy change
A survey of more than 150 employers, carried out be-tween October and December 2005 by political consultancy Westminster Advisers, reveals that while 47% reported an increasing awareness of the need to do more to support employees who are carers, only 11% were reviewing their policies to reflect that demand.
Less than one in five respondents (17%) has already implemented a policy to tackle the issue.
In a bid to address this situation, a host of leading UK employers and campaign groups have called on the government to introduce tax breaks for workers with caring responsibilities (Personnel Today, 28 March).
Under the proposals, tax breaks would enable employers to offer a voucher for employees who care for a dependent relative, similar to those available to buy childcare services, mobile phones and bicycles.
The call came a week after Gordon Brown made a Budget pledge to increase the value of childcare vouchers by £5 a week to £55.
The eldercare proposal has the backing of some big hitters in UK business, including BT, Ford, HSBC, Nationwide and John Lewis. Campaign groups including Counsel and Care, Working Families, Carers UK and the Princess Royal Trust for Carers have also thrown their weight behind it.
More help needed
Peter Tihanyi, head of policy at the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, said many carers would like to be able to work full- or part-time, but need more government help.
“Although there is some increased entitlement under the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 to an assessment to help people to care and work, there are still many carers who need additional help if they are going to combine the two,” he said. “As many carers are older and more experienced workers, enabling them to stay in the workplace also benefits their employers.”
This is a point backers of the campaign are keen to stress – providing support for carers will give real benefits to the employer, not just the employee.
Sue Jex, group head of diversity at banking giant HSBC, said: “There are many benefits to providing flexibility for carers, including increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and improved staff retention and morale.”
Shaheen Akram, diversity manager at car manufacturer Ford, added: “We welcome this campaign and feel that offering care vouchers as part of salary sacrifice for older people’s services would benefit our staff, their elderly relatives and our business.”
The call for more support for UK carers was broadly welcomed by both trade unions and business groups.
Retail union Usdaw said the proposal had the same central argument as its own ‘parents and carers’ campaign, which ran last year.
“The initiative is arguing that caring is as costly and complex as childcare, as our members told us last year,” said Paul Clarke, spokesman for Usdaw. “It makes sense for the government to recognise that employers need help in this area, in the form of sensible tax breaks, which can then be passed on to employees.”
Only part of the solution
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which represents 135,000 employers across the UK, said greater support for carers was to be encouraged, although it did not give outright backing to tax breaks.
“Everyone who can work and add value to the UK economy should be allowed to work flexibly,” said Lewis Sidnick, BCC senior policy adviser. “We wouldn’t say at this stage that tax breaks are definitely the answer, but they are certainly something that can be looked at as part of a wider package of support for carers.”
Supporters of the campaign will be encouraged by the early noises coming from Downing Street.
A spokesman for the Treasury said: “The government recognises that informal carers of adults can face constraints in their ability to work because of their responsibilities.
“Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has consulted with other departments and a number of representative bodies on the practicalities of extending support through tax credits for carers. The government is carefully considering the options,” he said.
10 facts about carers
- One in eight adults is a carer – about six million people.
- Carers save the economy 57bn per year, an average of 10,000 per carer.
- More than three million people juggle care with work.
- The main carer’s benefit is 45 for a minimum of 35 hours, equivalent to 1.26 per hour.
- 1.25 million people provide more than 50 hours of care per week.
- People providing high levels of care are twice as likely to be permanently sick or disabled.
- More than one million people care for more than one person
- 58% of carers are women and 42% are men.
- By 2037, the number of carers could have increased to nine million.
- Every year over two million people become carers
Source: Carers UK
Call for tax breaks for carers
Caring firms on the right track
If you want to get behind this drive to win tax breaks for carers or if you have got a strong opinion on the issue – please contact us at [email protected]