Tag Archives: Carers

#GE2015: What are the three main parties offering for working families?

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

Last week, as the General Election campaign reached its mid-point, a small forest of trees was lost for ever as the three main political parties – first Labour, then the Conservatives, and finally the Liberal Democrats – published their manifestos. With a combined length of 330 pages containing some 75,000 words, it would be quicker – and, believe me, a lot more pleasurable – to read, for example, both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. So, to save you the trouble (and time), we’ve been comparing the three manifestos against our own ‘families & work’ manifesto, Making work actually work for all.

That manifesto set out eight specific policy proposals, grouped under four headings: time; equality; money; and childcare infrastructure. Each proposal was chosen as being emblematic of what we and the member organisations of the Families & Work Group believe should be the broad thrust of policy reform in these four areas. And each offered the political parties an opportunity to demonstrate a practical commitment to our vision of work that actually works for all families and all employers.

So, how do the three manifestos measure up?

Time

Our two proposals were:

  •  Adopt a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector, so as to increase the supply of good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs; and
  • Create a new statutory right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather a crisis in their caring responsibilities without giving up work.

Somewhat surprisingly, none of the three parties sets out any new proposals to support and encourage the spread of flexible working practices. Indeed, the term ‘flexible working’ is mentioned only once, and even that is just a backwards-looking reference (by the Liberal Democrats) to the Coalition’s extension of the right to request flexible working to all workers in June 2014. This is deeply disappointing, as it is abundantly clear that take-up of flexible working remains heavily gendered, and that there are simply too few good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs available – a situation that puts single parents and parents of disabled children at a particular disadvantage.

It’s also disappointing that none of the three parties has taken up the idea of a right to adjustment leave. As our recent report Off balance demonstrates, much more needs to be done to support the parents of disabled children to either stay in work or re-enter the workforce. Eight out of ten non-working parents feel that they had no choice but to give up work upon, or very soon after, the diagnosis of their child. This common all-or-nothing scenario could be avoided by allowing such parents the chance to adjust to a change in their caring responsibilities. And cost analysis carried out for Working Families indicates that a legal right to up to six weeks of paid adjustment leave for the parents of disabled children could result in a potential annual net gain to the economy of £500 million.

Equality

Our two proposals were:

  • Increase statutory paid paternity leave from two to six weeks, paid at 90 per cent of earnings; and
  • Reform and simplify shared parental leave, including making it a ‘Day One’ right for fathers.

Here there is (relatively) good news, even if it isn’t terribly new. The Liberal Democrats repeat the pledge made in their October 2014 pre-manifesto of an extra four weeks of paternity leave, to be paid at the current (ludicrously low) rate of £138 per week, and Labour confirm their February 2015 announcement of an extra two weeks, to be paid at a more respectable £260 per week (roughly equivalent to the full-time minimum wage). However, the Conservatives are silent on the issue.

Only the Liberal Democrats make any mention of shared parental leave, and even then that is mostly in relation to the Coalition’s introduction of the new scheme, rather than any future plans. However, there is a welcome statement that, “while changes to parental leave should be introduced slowly to give business time to adjust, our ambition is to see paternity and shared parental leave become a ‘Day One’ right’”. And there is a very welcome (if  vague) promise to “introduce a right to paid leave for carers”.

All three parties pledge to work to close the gender pay gap, and Labour’s separate Manifesto for Women contains a very welcome promise to “consult on allowing grandparents who want to be more involved in caring for their grandchildren to share in parents’ unpaid parental leave, enabling them to take time off work without fear of losing their job”. See this recent guest post by Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus for more on this important issue.

Money

Our two proposals were:

  • Immediately restore the real value of statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on the annual uprating since 2013, and set out a programme of annual increases to raise such pay to at least the  minimum wage within ten years; and
  • Enhance the potential of Universal Credit to ensure that work really does pay for all working families.

Perhaps not surprisingly, none of the parties makes even a nod to raising statutory maternity, paternity and parental pay towards parity with the minimum wage. This would be an ambitious policy call at the best of times, let alone when all the main parties are committed to varying degrees of further austerity in public spending. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats do at least say they would exempt maternity, paternity and parental pay from the one per cent cap on the uprating of social security benefits that they both say they would extend until April 2018. However, as noted previously on this blog, Labour’s pledge to pay statutory paternity leave at almost twice the current rate opens a door that we will work hard to open wider in the years ahead.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats pledge to complete the roll-out of Universal Credit, though neither party sets out any new ideas on how the new system might be improved. Labour is more circumspect, stating: “We support the principle behind Universal Credit – that there should be a smooth transition into work – but it must be affordable and fit for purpose, so we will pause and review the programme”. And the Liberal Democrats say they would review the sanctions regime to “ensure there are no league tables or targets for sanctions”, and would “introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning so people are only sanctioned if they deliberately and repeatedly break the rules”.

Childcare infrastructure

Our two proposals were:

  • Appoint a cabinet-level minister for childcare, to lead on developing a new national strategy aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years; and
  • Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children.

As expected, all three manifestos include a childcare offer. That of the Liberal Democrats is perhaps the most ambitious, setting out an ultimate goal of 20 hours of free childcare a week for all parents with children aged from two to four-years, and all working parents from the end of paid parental leave (nine months) to two years”. However, there is no timetable for reaching this goal.

Labour’s manifesto reiterates the party’s longstanding pledge to increase the existing entitlement of free childcare for parents of three- and four-year-olds, from 15 to 25 hours per week. And, to the surprise of many, the Conservative manifesto outbids this, with a pledge of 30 hours per week. However, with the Conservatives reportedly having costed this pledge of an extra 15 hours at just £350 million – less than half the £800 million that Labour says it would need for its extra ten hours – some critics have suggested that this pledge is simply “too good to be true”. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats pledge to implement the Coalition’s tax-free childcare scheme, set to come into force later this year, but Labour’s manifesto does not mention the scheme.

Sadly, none of the three parties makes any mention of the additional childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children. This is something that we will be working hard to remedy, whoever forms the next government.

[We will assess the manifestos of the other political parties in a future post]

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Carers: the Balancing Act

Guest blogger Gemma Reucroft warns of an imminent “caring explosion” in the UK labour market.

There are currently over six million carers in the UK, a figure that is expected to increase to nine million by 2037. Every single day 6,000 people take on a new caring responsibility. At some point in our lives, three in five of us will be a carer. Then there’s the relatively recent phenomenon of the so-called sandwich generation: people caring for elderly parents whilst still having children living at home.

We have an ageing population. More than 15 million people in the UK currently have a long-term health condition. Conditions such as diabetes, dementia, chronic heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are rising, fast.

Within just five years we will reach a critical point: there will be more people needing care than people available to meet the demand.

Caring for someone else is a constant balancing act, especially for those who are also in work. This has been one of those issues that is both known but unknown. Well understood in some areas and within some organisations, but not yet truly in the consciousness to the extent that it needs to be. Because this is going to have a significant impact on the workplace. A caring explosion is coming.

Awareness is starting to increase. The recent annual CIPD survey into absence at work showed that more than a third of employers believe that caring responsibilities have had an impact on their absence levels. The benefits industry is also waking up. Eldercare is now predicted to be the next big flex benefit offering.

Research by Carers UK highlights the extent of the problem. Thirty-four per cent of carers feel that they have missed out on promotion or development opportunities at work. Forty-two per cent  have taken a reduced income in order to provide that care, and it’s estimated that around two million carers have left the labour market altogether.

For those carers that do stay in work, they have a serious risk of developing mental health conditions themselves. Ninety-two per cent of carers describe themselves as feeling stressed as a result of their caring role. It’s not unusual for carers to neglect their own health when they are prioritising the care of someone else. There is also the potentially significant financial impact that can arise as a result of caring. Employers need to take action to prepare their organisations to meet this challenge.

Whether or not they have identified themselves to their employer as such (and often people don’t classify themselves as a carer), in every organisation there will be employees who have some sort of caring responsibility outside of their day job. And there is no question that these numbers will increase in the years to come.

We can’t afford to let the skills held by carers  disappear out of the labour market. The age profile of carers suggests that they will be at the peak of their careers when they take on these responsibilities but they are likely to need support from their employer in order to continue to balance caring and work.

Many carers are ‘hidden’, as they often feel unable to confide in their employers. However, for some carers, support from an employer may be the only support they get.

Under UK law, carers can make an application to their employer for flexible working after a qualifying period. They have few other formal protections or support mechanisms. Whilst there is also a legal right to take emergency time off for dependants, this right extends for just a day or two to make alternative care arrangements, and the time off is unpaid.   Simply applying the basic statutory position will not be enough if you want to genuinely retain and support carers in your organisation. The qualifying period for requesting flexible working can be a particular barrier to those seeking to re-enter the labour market.

When it comes to supporting carers at work, one of the most impact factors that allows them to juggle work and care, is flexibility. This doesn’t necessarily mean formal flexible working arrangements. Many health conditions are unpredictable and can change quickly. Carers may have to attend hospital appointments, take phone calls during the working day, take leave at short notice.  It’s not about someone going part-time or changing hours on a permanent basis it may be that some informal everyday flexibility will suffice, as the caring demands flex too.

The other crucial factor is support. A supportive employer, and a supportive line manager in particular, can make all the difference, and small changes are often all that are required.

Here is where HR departments come in. Education is needed, and so is effective communication. Carers need to know that it is okay to be open about their caring responsibilities, and understand their right to request flexible working. Line managers need to be educated in the important role they play in supporting the carer in balancing their sometimes competing priorities. There is no one solution that meets the needs of all carers. The support an employer can provide must be tailored to the individual situation.

There will be no organisation immune from the caring effect. So it is time to get prepared for what is to come.

Gemma Reucroft is UK HR Director at Tunstall Healthcare (UK) Ltd., and a prolific blogger on HR and employment law & policy issues. Follow Gemma on Twitter: @HR_Gem

Who cares for working carers?

By Jonathan Swan, Research & Policy Officer, Working Families

Employers have developed suites of policies to meet the needs of employees who need to fulfil caring responsibilities, be these fathers, mothers or carers of other adults. Often these policies fit within a wider overarching framework of flexibility, in which all employees have the opportunity to adjust the way in which they work.

Nonetheless, very few employers rely solely on a blanket ‘total flexibility’ approach, most preferring to target specific support at specific groups of employees. One of the challenges around carers that was identified in our 2013 Top Employers for Working Families Benchmark & Awards was that of carer visibility: locating employees who are also carers can be problematic. Organisations need to make sure that they are doing all they can to provide an environment in which carers feel that they can come forward, confident in the knowledge that they will be supported.

There are different approaches to this in evidence in the 2013 Benchmark. Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, for example, have acknowledged the reluctance of employed carers to sometimes reveal that they are caring for someone, so have developed a carer’s registration scheme to enable employees to draw on confidential assistance if they wish.

Other organisations, like British Gas, winners of the 2013 Best for Carers Award, have taken a multiple- track strategy: they have developed and fostered a large carer network (overtly supported by a Director), they carry out detailed analysis of their workforce survey to specifically locate and understand their carers, and they have targeted extra resources at building up the levels of information and support for carers.

In terms of policy provisions, there is much good practice evident in 2013 that can be drawn on. Recognisingthe time demands that caring can make is crucial. British Gas has a solid suite of policies which includes practical arrangements aimed at carers, along with support for line managers and networking for employees. Their Carers Policy which, in addition to dependant and emergency leave, provides up to one month’s matched leave per year. For example, if an employee takes five days annual leave for caring responsibilities British Gas will match this with an additional five days. There is no service requirement to be eligible for this leave. Carers are also supported through an Employee Assistance Programme which includes carer-specific support.

It is also important that employers understand the real effects on employee capability and capacity that caring responsibilities can bring. For example, The London School of Economics have developed a policy which ensures that leave taken for caring reasons is taken into account and is used when reviewing work output and career development. This recognition that caring responsibilities (both short and long term) can disrupt established working patterns and affect performance levels is part of a lifecycles approach, working with employees to manage difficult circumstances. Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has invested in work with managers across the organisation to build a culture where carers’ needs are treated as an equal priority as working parents.

Although good practice is apparent, the 2013 benchmark revealed that carers are still lagging behind fathers and mothers in terms of policy support. This is partly an historical legacy of the way that work and life integration policy have been developed, with mothers the main focus of initiatives started in the 1980s. Carers, and fathers, are still catching up, although over the last year the gap between carers and fathers has almost disappeared.

The next challenge for employers is to try to make sure that carers can access a similar level of support that is currently available to mothers of young children. An additional area employers might wish to consider is reliance on managerial discretion to apply and make available support and benefits, such as time off for dependent care (and pay for this time off).  This carries risks of inconsistent application and perceptions of unfairness amongst employees. There may be patchy application of policies as attitudes vary from manager to manager. There is always a balance between prescription and autonomy. The ideal is an open culture of trust. Line manager training and training for HR, plus an escalation procedure outside of the reporting line are essential.

Perhaps the most crucial thing that employers can do is to ensure that the values that they espouse translate into the wider culture of the organisation. Top-down assertions of commitment to work-life balance for all employees will flounder if policies are not supported by a flexible culture.

[This article first appeared in HR Director. You can find information on the 2014 Top Employers for Working Families Benchmark & Awards here.]