Maureen Gaudin, co-founder of Tutella, discusses the frightening number of people who have become unpaid carers and how their employers should support them.
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s estimated an additional 4.5m people in the UK have become unpaid carers.
A carer, defined by the NHS, could be children or adults who look after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction and cannot cope without their support1.
And there were already around 9.1m unpaid carers before the outbreak2.
When you total up the number of individuals providing free care, it comes to 13.6m people, almost a fifth of the UK population which stands at just under 68m3. How frightening is that?
Behind the numbers are complex human lives, relationships with loved ones, inspiring stories of solidarity and commitment, but also stories of loss and suffering. BHSF and Tutella are working together to provide carers with independent information and practical advice during these challenging times.
In an interview with Hertfordshire Mercury, Christie Michael spoke about how she has been caring for her elderly mum and the challenges lockdown has presented.
Christie hasn’t left her house for three months for fear of contracting COVID-19 and making her mum fatally ill. The lockdown period has also left them struggling to provide enough food to prevent them from going hungry.
They’re now relying on food banks to get them through4.
A YouGov poll has found around two-thirds of people feel unpaid carers haven’t been supported by the government during the crisis5.
Unpaid carers play a vital role in supporting our health and social care systems and contribute £57bn in service to our communities each year6. Some carers may help loved ones with all daily living tasks – feeding, bathing, dressing, going to the toilet and taking medicines.
Despite this, many say they feel undervalued, invisible and ignored. There are millions of Brits providing care round the clock during these tough times who may not have practical support. Whether it’s not having personal protective equipment (PPE) or they haven’t been tested for coronavirus.
Carers may have also felt overwhelmed with their responsibilities. Over 1.5m unpaid carers aged 70 or over who have taken on the responsibility of providing care for their loved ones are now at breaking point7.
Some unpaid/working carers are feeling under pressure and this is where employers need to step in to help alleviate that pressure.
A virtual meeting with representatives from the Leeds employers forum was held in June 2020 to share lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis. Chris Walker, team manager at British Gas, provided his learnings at the forum and spoke about how offering flexibility to carers during these tough times has been beneficial for their company.
“Since lockdown, the flexibility of our carers policy alongside the advice and guidance we have received has positively impacted the wider team. Our people have been able to work effectively and look after their family in these difficult times.
“The need for flexibility and support has been key for all of our staff. We’ve seen the benefits of our approach working and want to share this with other employers8.”
A study carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and The University of Sheffield, has found working carers who are supported by their employers are finding it easier to combine paid employment with unpaid caring responsibilities, resulting in positive impacts on their work, care and wellbeing.
Over 90% of carers have said being able to work flexible hours and work from home around their caring role has made things easier9.
To retain the talents and skills of more carers, employers could offer mid-career ‘MOTs’ that include a focus on managing work and care to ensure carers do not suffer financial hardship.
Wealth, Work and Health are three categories recommended to be included in a mid-career MOT.
Wealth can cover discussions around income, expenditure and setting budgeting goals. Work could focus on current workload, skills and qualifications and retirement plans. General health and fitness can be discussed in the final category.
However, the framework could be tailored to suit the employee10.
Carers are a growing reality in workforces and it’s down to employers to support those with caring responsibilities by providing access to help and advice, as well as giving staff the option of flexible working hours.
If you have caring responsibilities and need advice, call us today on 0121 454 3601 or click here for more information on BHSF Your Care Support.