The extension of working rights is an important step in helping workers to combine caring responsibilities for family members with paid employment, charity Carers UK says.
Changes to employment law which came into force on Monday 30th June, extend rights which are currently confined to specific groups with family responsibilities. Prior to the change, only those who have children or caring responsibilities for older or disabled family members had the right to request flexible working – but with this extension, any staff member who has worked with their employer for more than 26 weeks will now be able to request flexibility, for any reason.
Among the UK’s 6.5 million carers 3 million are in employment with many struggling to juggle work with caring for a loved one. Carers UK has warmly welcomed the extension, which will now include carers caring for friends or neighbours, who were excluded from the existing rights. Most carers already had the right to request flexible working, however an estimated 96,000 carers were missing out, as caring responsibilities for some friends or neighbours were not recognised by existing flexible working legislation.Carers UK, which co-ordinates business forum Employers for Carers, also argues that the extension of these rights will help to ‘normalise’ flexible working – so that people with caring responsibilities feel more able to come forward and ask for flexibility from their employers.
Heléna Herklots, Chief Executive of Carers UK said: “Some carers have been reluctant to request flexibility at work as they felt they were asking for special treatment. Now that all workers will have this right, we hope that workplace culture will grow even more accepting of staff requesting flexibility for a variety of reasons to balance work with different parts of their lives.”
But this change isn’t just good for families. We know that the economy loses over £1.3 billion a year as a result of carers being forced to give up work to care, and employers pay the price in lost skills and experience. Providing support and flexibility for the 1 in 9 employees combining work and caring is good for business – improving productivity and staff retention and cutting the costs of recruitment and retraining.” Carers UK, whose research has shown that 2.3 million carers have given up work and 3 million have reduced working hours to care has also called for a new right to 5-10 days of paid ‘care leave’ to help workers take older parents to hospital appointments or care for seriously ill loved ones.
Estimates based on the General Household survey and impact analysis of the Work & Families Act 2006 indicated that around 4.5 percent of carers spending more than 20 hours a week were caring for a friend or neighbour living in a separate household – found in Carers UK (2006) Work and Families Bill, Carers UK response to the draft regulations, Terms and Conditions of Employment, Flexible Working– when this is applied to 2011 Census figures this represents 96,082 carers.