The Work and Pensions Committee has this week published a report detailing recommendations on how working carers can be better supported by both employers and the government. This includes proposals to make the right to request flexible working available from an employee’s first day.
The report, Employment support for carers: thirteenth report of session 2017-19, published on 17 May 2018, sought to offer advice on how working carers can be better supported to stay in, or enter, employment. The report covered recommendations for the existing state benefits system around the carers’ allowance, potential changes to employment policies and also how the government can act as a model employer in this space.
Among its suggestions, the committee recommended that the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 are amended so that the statutory six-month tenure that takes place before an employee can request flexible working is changed to become a day one right. The committee further endorsed the government’s commitment to introducing a statutory carers’ leave, proposing that there is a strong case for implementing a statutory, five-day paid carers’ leave benefit, which could be based on the existing statutory leave system. It suggested that this measure should be introduced when resources allow, and that the government should provide a full impact assessment, analysing this type of policy.
The committee further proposed that the government act as a model employer, to help inspire cultural change around the potential stigma of employees taking up carers’ benefits in the workplace. This includes adopting a best practice approach to employing carers, having membership to employer membership forums such as Employers for Carers, and involvement in schemes like the Happy to Talk Flexible Working scheme.
The committee welcomed the government-commissioned employer benchmarking scheme also, and recommended that every government department should be aiming for the highest level of recognition.
In addition, the committee felt that the government should annually collect and publish information on each department’s support for carers in its employment policies and practices. The committee recommended that this include details on the percentage of jobs advertised as flexible, the number of requests for flexible working that have been received, accepted and denied, the policy on carers’ leave and its take-up, whether the department has a designated carers’ policy and what this may include and, when applicable, the department’s level of recognition under the new employer benchmarking scheme.
The committee also recommended that there should be a link between the national living wage and the carers’ allowance earnings threshold, stating that for as long as the 16-hours eligibility rule exists in the UK’s current benefits system, then the carers’ allowance threshold should be equivalent to no less than 16 hours at the national living wage.
Emily Holzhausen OBE, director of policy at Carers UK, said: “It’s time that workplaces reflect the reality of how we live now. Government has an important role to play in fostering change by setting an example as a carer-friendly employer, and by putting the necessary rights, entitlements and support systems in place for carers.
“Supporting carers to juggle work and care makes strong economic as well as social sense. The UK economy needs people to continue working for longer, but this also increases the likelihood of caring [while] working. The Committee’s recommendations are both deliverable and desirable, and there is a growing expectation amongst the public that government must do more to support carers.
“Carers UK has long argued for a right to paid time off work to care and we are pleased that the Committee has called strongly upon government to introduce this. The government must now move swiftly to accept and put in place the Committee’s recommendations.”
Raman Sankaran, chief commercial officer, growth and innovation at Simplyhealth, added: “We’re really pleased to see the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into employment support for carers recommends a number of measures, including giving employees the right to request flexible working patterns from the first day of employment.
“In our submission to the inquiry we stated that flexible working is crucial to retaining working carers. The lack of flexibility in the workplace means that many carers leave the workforce prematurely, reduce their working hours or take on a role that doesn’t match their skill set.
“We strongly believe there should be greater support for working carers and hopefully the forthcoming social care green paper will outline proposals to support them.”