Working and Caring in Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on caring in all its forms – including the growing number of workers who are caring for older, disabled or ill family members or friends.
Research published by Carers UK with YouGov in Carers Week last year showed that millions more people took on caring responsibilities in a matter of weeks after the outbreak of Covid-19. Strikingly, of the 4.5 million new carers identified, the majority (2.8 million) were also working. This suggests that, in total, as many as 1 in 4 in the UK population and workforce, could now be caring.
During the past year Carers UK has received an unparalleled number of requests for information and advice both from carers and employers. The pandemic has put unprecedented pressure not only on healthcare services but also on businesses and the wider economy. And the impact of all of this has been particularly hard on working age people with caring responsibilities.
So, what problems have working carers been facing?
Many have had to self-isolate with the person they care for – a partner or parent with a serious health condition or a disabled child – because day services have closed or care packages have been cut. This has often left them caring round the clock.
Many have been juggling working from home alongside providing that care. Sandwich carers –supporting a disabled or seriously ill child, partner or parent alongside caring for children – have also had to manage home schooling, which itself brought many challenges.
Others have not been able to visit the relative they normally support at a distance for fear of passing on the infection. This has meant they have had to make other arrangements to provide the support they would normally be giving, with new stresses arising from managing caring remotely.
Carers UK research published in October 2020 showed that 81% of carers were providing more care since the pandemic, with 64% reporting that they had not had a break and that they had worse mental health. 9% had had to give up work and 11% had reduced their hours.
How have employers been able to respond?
Our research suggests that employers with established policies in place to support staff with caring responsibilities have been better able to meet the changing needs of their workforce during the pandemic.
- A survey of members of our Employers for Carers business forum found that nine out of ten respondents (90%) had put in additional arrangements to support carers’ health and wellbeing during the pandemic. Three quarters (75%) had offered additional flexible working arrangements for carers, while half (50%) offered carer’s leave or special leave to help carers manage their caring responsibilities.
- Six in ten (61%) also offered different arrangements for staff caring for someone in the shielded category. Of these employers, 67% enabled such carers to work remotely on other duties, 40% moved them to non-frontline roles, 40% offered them paid leave, 33% offered unpaid leave and a smaller proportion (20%) enabled them to be furloughed.
So, what are the top tips for employers?
From the good practice identified in the survey, and the wider experience of our members, here are some key tips to support carers in your workforce:
- Prepare the ground by raising awareness and visibility of caring (and carers) in your workplace. Help carers to identify themselves by talking about what is meant by ‘caring’ (and ‘carers’) and including this in workplace surveys and communications.
- Make support explicit in your workplace policies or guidance. Include caring (and carers) in flexible working and leave arrangements and line manager education and resources.
- Provide practical support. Promote health and wellbeing information and support to all staff and talk about its relevance to caring (and carers). Signpost staff to relevant support and information from organisations such as Carers UK. Simple things like giving permission to make/take personal phone calls can also help to make a difference.
- Connect and engage carers in your workplace. Offer peer support through a staff network and/or a ‘go to’ person with experience of caring who is happy to talk to others.
- Promote support for carers regularly and at all levels of your organisation. Champions and role models, especially at senior level, can be critical here in raising awareness and increasing take up of support.
Good practice along these lines from Employers for Carers member organisations has formed the basis of our employer benchmarking scheme Carer Confident which provides a useful framework for implementing support in the workplace.
This year the theme of Carers Week is Make Caring Visible and Valued. There is a role for us all here in raising awareness and signposting carers to support in the workplace - whether we are carers, colleagues or managers (who will often be carers too!)
Katherine Wilson is Head of Employers for Carers UK. Carers UK is a charity set up to help the millions of people who care for family or friends. At some point in our lives every one of us will be involved in looking after an older, ill or disabled relative, partner or friend. Over six and a half million people in the UK are caring now but while caring is part and parcel of life, without the right support the personal costs can be high. Carers UK supports carers, provides information and advice about caring, delivers training and consultancy services and campaigns to make life better for carers.