Work and carers
This article summarizes:
· the demands of caring
· its possible effects on people at work
· where working carers can get help and support.
The national picture
Carers look after someone at home – a parent, partner or child who:
· is ill, frail or has had an accident
· has a disability or special need.
In 2005, a report from the Scottish Executive : ‘Care 21: The future of unpaid care in Scotland’, made 22 recommendations, including:
the removal of barriers relating to benefits, for carers who wished to work
the development of a campaign to ensure employers were aware of their role and responsibilites to carers
Caring responsibilities and their possible effect
Caring can involve a whole range of tasks:
· help with shopping, cooking and housework
· giving medicines
· help with bathing, toileting, dressing, getting up and down stairs
· lifting in and out of bed
· providing emotional support.
Caring can be rewarding and fulfilling, but it can be stressful. It can interfere with your family and social life and may affect your health. In 2005, caring work led almost half of carers to visit their GP.
Common health problems include back pain, depression and exhaustion, as well as loss of confidence and self esteem.
Causes can include strain through lifting, lack of sleep, isolation, anxiety and being constantly on call without regular breaks.
The working carer
If you are a working carer, you have two jobs, one of them unpaid. Your paid job can be a lifeline to the outside world - it gives you:
· independence and income
· social contact.
But you try not to let your employer feel that you’re less able to do your job because of pressures at home. So conflicts can arise when:
· you need time off to deal with emergencies, go to hospital appointments or arrange care if you’re not at home
· you are so tired you can't concentrate, either at home or at work
· you feel guilty, worrying about how things are at home and feeling you are not doing as well as you could at work
· you do not go for promotion or training because you feel you cannot give it the commitment it deserves.
It does not help if:
· you have work schedules you can't change and deadlines you can't meet
· you work long hours and have a lot of travelling
· your manager is unsympathetic and your colleagues don’t understand.
In the Care 21 survey:
78% of carers in Scotland reported that caring severely limited their free time
54% of carers aged 18-24 said it had negative effects on their careers and 44% said it had negative effects on their education.
Rights for Carers
You can ask for flexible working conditions if you have worked for your employer for 26 weeks and are the carer of:
a child or children under 16 or a disabled child under 18
a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative, or someone who lives at the same address as you do.
In these cases, your employer must seriously consider your request and discuss it with you. See the article on Family friendly employment law for further details.
To find out where you stand, first:
· speak to your employer or your trade union representative or your company’s personnel or welfare department
· speak to your colleagues - you may find others in the same situation.
Sharing your situation with people you trust and getting their support and understanding can in itself be helpful. Think of practical things that could help - it might be a parking space near the door, so you can get out quickly, or your own phone line so you can keep in touch with home.
At a certain point you may also have to consider major changes in your working life like:
· reduced or flexible working hours or working from home
· special leave arrangements
· a career break.
How can your employer help?
Many employers recognise that supporting carers in the workplace makes good business sense. Benefits to them include:
· reduced staff turnover and absenteeism
· improved staff morale and motivation.
Employees benefit from carer friendly policies which:
· help carers to stay in work for as long as possible
· support carers returning to work after a period of full time caring.
Practical support from managers and colleagues is important to the working carer.
If you are a working carer and wish to find out more about your legal rights, see articles Your basic rights at work, Flexible and part time working, Job sharing, Work life balance, and Family friendly employment law.
Carers Direct Hotline: 0808 802 0202; Textphone: 0800 988 8657
Carers Direct: http://www.nhs.uk/carersdirect/Pages/CarersDirectHome.aspx
Carers Scotland: http://www.carerscotland.org/
Carers UK: http://www.carersuk.org/
Employers for Carers: http://www.employersforcarers.org/
Balancing Work and Care - an employers guide: http://www.eurocarers.org/balancing_work_care_employers_guide.pdf