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Work and Pensions Committee recommends extra support for carers 

The Work and Pensions Committee has recommended that the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 be amended to ensure the right to request flexible working exists from the first day of employment.


The committee published a report which says there is a strong case for five days’ statutory paid carer’s leave based on the existing statutory leave system. Below summarises the report’s points.


The case for action

A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who, due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction, cannot cope without support. From helping an elderly parent, to looking after a disabled child or assisting a sick neighbour, caring is wide-ranging. It is not defined by age, gender, income or employment status. The role of carer is often assumed without question: Carers are simply doing the only thing imaginable. The responsibility could fall to any one of us.


More than three million carers juggle care with paid work. As well as a financial necessity, work can be an escape from the demands of caring, however it can also add pressure to an already stressful life. This can be exacerbated by a lack of flexibility or understanding on the part of the employer and therefore many carers find it difficult to work.


Flexible working

Flexible working is a crucial factor in many carers being able to juggle caring responsibilities and work. For other carers, work would be an option if they were able to work flexibly. There is a growing body of evidence that flexible working is not just good for the employee, but also highly beneficial to the employer. It is, in many cases, a win-win.


The committee welcomes the government’s support for flexible working and call for equal treatment for all employees, however the law is currently, however, at odds with that rhetoric. The statutory six month wait for a right simply to request flexible working creates uncertainty for carers and may discourage them from seeking work. The committee recommends the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 be amended to ensure the right to request flexible working exists from the first day of employment.


In its Industrial Strategy, the government said it would “work with business to make flexible working a reality for all employees across Britain”. This position was reiterated in the DWP’s evidence to the committee’s inquiry - government calls on firms to make flexible working a reality for all employees by advertising all jobs as flexible from day one, unless there are solid business reasons not to. The government intends to review the Flexible Working Regulations in 2019.


Carer’s leave

Carers can require time off to deal with both expected appointments and unexpected emergencies. Some employers have carer’s leave policies to support staff with such responsibilities. Carers currently have the same statutory entitlement to leave as other employees.


A proposal for an EU directive on work-life balance would provide five days carer’s leave per year, paid at no lower than sick pay level. The government has accepted the case for a UK system of carer’s leave. The 2017 Conservative manifesto included the introduction of a statutory entitlement and the committee was assured that this remained “an absolute commitment”. The details of that commitment, however, have yet to be confirmed.


At the time the Conservative manifesto was launched it was reported that the commitment would be in the form of one year’s unpaid leave. However, Carers UK research found that 48 percent of carers live on a household income of less than £1,500 per month and 39 percent of carers said they were “struggling to make ends meet”. Carer representative groups told the committee that a system of statutory paid carer’s leave was required.


Statutory unpaid leave would be a welcome solution for some carers but simply unaffordable to many others, says the committee. An existing model of parental leave, paid at a statutory rate, already assists parents while providing compensation to employers, including special assistance for small businesses. In supporting the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, the government has demonstrated a willingness to extend this assistance into further circumstances.


The government’s responses to these recommendations is yet to be published.

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