Carers in the workplace should be provided with a ‘carer’s passport’ which would qualify them for financial support when they have to take time away from work to look after a family member and which would stay with them throughout their working lives.
Deborah Hargreaves, Friends Provident Foundation journalist fellow, is calling for the institution of feminine corporations to help redress gender imbalance in business, and says carers are getting a raw deal from government and that looking after older, disabled or seriously ill relatives should be treated much like maternity leave.
The idea of a carer’s passport has been championed by the charity, Carers UK which has received funding from the Department of Health and Social Care to investigate the possibilities. According to the charity more than six hundred people a day leave their jobs to look after a sick, disabled or elderly relative. It says more than two and a half million people have quit their jobs in the past five years to care for someone in their family whose age or level of illness or disability requires significant support while five million more are struggling to juggle work and care, hanging on to their jobs by their fingertips.
Deborah interviewed a number of carers for the report including a woman who runs her own company in Wales. She said, “Aged fifty-one, as a menopausal mother of two girls, both under ten and with all their parenting needs, my husband and I found ourselves in the ‘caring for all sandwich.’ We are both freelance arts practitioners who run our own businesses. Our three remaining octogenarian parents were all in crisis. My husbands’ parents, living an hour away and determined to stay in their own home, had ten hospital visits between them in the space of twelve weeks. This involved respite care for my father-in-law in a home whose website looked like a hotel stay and was, in reality, an episode of Fawlty Towers and the Walking Dead. My advice to the staff was: ‘Keep him in his room. Going downstairs to the day lounge will kill him.’ My mother, forty-five minutes away, was then hospitalised for two months and emerged frail and vulnerable. Everything had to stop to deal with this very real ‘care crisis sandwich.’”
The impact of taking an enforced career break to become a carer can be significant. Another of Deborah’s interviewees said, “I was a charity chief exec, but I went self-employed to look after my elderly parents. She went on, “As a woman in my fifties, once I’d done that for a couple of years, no-one would take me on again, I had given up all my seniority.”
The charity, Carers UK, has had more than 150 businesses join its Employers for Carers business forum and commit to helping people combine work and caring. One is Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, which says, “We are working hard to retain a diverse and skilled workforce through our carers’ policies which includes paid carers leave and flexible working from day one of being a carer.”