Katherine Wilson: Ageing population intensifies need for caring policies

Katherine WilsonOne in nine workers in the UK careĀ for a family member or friend who is older, disabled or ill, according to the 2011 Census. The pressures of juggling work and care, without the right support from employers or local services, have forced millions of people to give up work or reduce their hours to care, at a cost to the economy of Ā£1.3 billion a year, according to the London School of Economics’ study, Public expenditure costs of carers leaving employment, published in April 2012.

The business case for supporting working carers is clear; it leads to greater staff retention, less absenteeism, improved resilience, performance and productivity, and a healthier bottom line.

Significant developments in employee rights in recent years mean that there is also a strong legal case for supporting working carers. All employees with 26 weeksā€™ service for their employer now have the right to request flexible-working arrangements and time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. Carers are also entitled to greater protection against discrimination because of their caring responsibilities.

By recognising carersā€™ legal rights in existing policies and procedures, or in a specific carers policy, employers can begin to future-proof their business against the challenges of an ageing workforce and an increasingly competitive economic environment.

While many employers have put the building blocks in place to support employees who currently have or may have caring responsibilities in the future, many employers still have a long way to go.

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Our ageing population means that the already significant number of people combining work and care is set to soar. This, alongside growing evidence about the negative impact that caring, if unsupported, can have on staff resilience, productivity, and retention, means that caring is an issue businesses cannot afford to ignore.

Katherine Wilson is strategic employment manager at Carers UK