Working carers | Why you shouldn't wait for a mandate

Why you shouldn't wait for a mandate

By Kay Needle, Early Intervention & Rehabilitation Expert at Generali UK Employee Benefits

Working carers are in line for new rights from 6 April 2024, including the removal of hurdles to flexible working rights, and the equivalent of a week off work every year, albeit unpaid. But why wait for these things – which are only really administration changes – says Andrew Gething, Managing Director of our Eldercare Support Service partner MorganAsh, speaking at a recent Generali UK Employee Benefits webinar. “There’s so much that employers can do – and should do – now, without waiting for the Carers’ Leave Act and other such mandates,” adds Andrew.

The changes to flexible working regulations mean that all employees will have the right to make a flexible working application from day one of employment. This removes the current requirement that employees should have 26 weeks’ continuous employment before they can make such a request.

Meanwhile, the Carers’ Leave Act is specifically targeted towards those employees providing unpaid long-term care to a loved one. This will mean that they can take time off, without pay, in half or full days, up to the equivalent of a week a year.

The risk of medicalising the problem

At Generali UK, we’ve noticed over recent years through our early intervention work with clients, an increase in absence related to the provision of care for a loved one. By the time we receive referrals to provide support, the employee is often already off work. And quite often, it’s presented to us, by HR, as a mental health issue. It’s not until we examine the reasons for the absence and the need for mental health support, that we discover there’s a caregiving element.

Quite often, the fact of the matter is that the individual often isn’t too ill to work – or even that they have a mental health problem - they just need help and support with their caregiving pressures, to prevent issues spiralling out of control.

It’s a significant issue, not only for people, but also for business. Latest (2021) census data on unpaid care and employment in England and Wales, reports that 2.5 million unpaid carers are in employment. It also found that the proportion of carers who are juggling employment with high levels of care has increased since 2011, the year of the last census. In 2011, 12% were caring for 20-49 hours. In 2021, that figure rose to 21%.

The new rights from 6 April 2024 will undoubtedly prove useful, once written into HR policy and practice. But, arguably, it’s the day-to-day support – from a workplace culture perspective as well as a benefits and services perspective – that is essential to communicate to employees.

Employees who work for an organisation with Group Income Protection in place, for instance, typically have access to support in the shape of structured counselling via an Employee Assistance Programme. Also access to other experts via the same service is possible, such as lawyers and independent financial advisers. Plus, bereavement counselling and personal debt management.

Some providers also extend this support to specialist programmes, such as the Eldercare Support Service from Generali UK, in partnership with MorganAsh and others. This support is often more about having someone to talk to, as opposed to structured counselling.

“A lot of the time, what we do is about extending the hand of friendship, helping to reduce the sense of isolation and loneliness that working carers often feel,” explains Kay Haighton, Nurse Manager at MorganAsh, and an ex working carer herself.

Kay says feedback from clients suggests that what is really valued by working carers includes having someone who: understands first-hand the stresses and strains of being a working carer; can help the individual navigate the complex world of health and social care in the UK; will source the right professional carer support in the home, or a residential care or nursing home, if needed; and can signpost to appropriate community resources.

To help illustrate how this support works in action, Kay provides a real-life case study (with the name changed for confidentiality purposes, of course).

“We received a referral to help Janet. It was just after the final lockdown of the pandemic and she was working from home. She felt isolated, was struggling to work, and she felt very stressed. The contact with us began when her dad was admitted to hospital with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease [COPD]. He was struggling with a lot of other serious medical conditions. Not only that but, according to Janet, he’d increasingly being acting “a bit odd”; alienating a lot of the family and showing signs of confusion.

“Janet lived 3.5 hours away from her dad. It was therefore proving very difficult for her to coordinate everything. When he came out of hospital, 24-hour care was put in place. Janet contacted us to check that what she was doing was the right thing, and whether there was any better care support in the area. We researched the care in the area on her behalf, allowing us to reassure her that she was doing all the right things – and it was the best care in the area.

“Over the next few months, I helped her organise things – ironing out any issues with the care support, without ruffling any feathers. We also helped her get a higher rate of government Attendance Allowance for her dad. There were also a lot of complicated family issues; people not speaking to each other. Janet was finding the situation very difficult. So, the support we provided continued for a long time. I think this helped her feel less isolated.

“Providing a safe space and a listening ear allowed Janet to fully share her situation and get the support she needed. Then, when her dad passed away, we continued to provide support, including helping with the funeral arrangements. I also referred her to Generali’s EAP provider at that stage for help with potential bereavement counselling. Thankfully, Janet had a supportive manager throughout all of this; a key element too.”

*To access a free recording of the full 30-min webinar, please email [email protected] 

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All information contained herein represents the views and opinions of the author as of the date of writing and is provided for general information only. Nothing herein constitutes or is intended to constitute financial or other form of advice and no individual should rely upon the information provided in making a specific investment decision without first seeking independent professional advice.

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