According to Carers UK, there are approximately 6.5 million people providing unpaid care in the UK. This figure is expected to rise to 9 million by 2037. These carers look after ill, elderly or disabled family members for anything from a few hours a week to around the clock.
Caring can have a negative affect on carers’ finances, and a 2014 Carers UK report stated that 70% of carers were £10,000 worse off as a result of reduced earnings. While some carers give up paid employment altogether, staying in work in some form is a good way for carers to boost their own wellbeing and maintain their independence, work-related skills and confidence.
As research also suggests that the pressures of caring can negatively affect carers’ physical and mental health, it is extremely important that carers look after themselves. Many carers neglect their own health and wellbeing as they focus on the person they are caring for, but when carers are mentally and physically well, this has a positive effect on the person they look after. Inversely, if the carer does become ill, it can become increasingly difficult for them to look after someone else.
Flexible working is one way in which carers can fit their caring responsibilities around paid employment. Flexible working may include:
- flexi-time – working hours are flexible so that the employee can start or finish work earlier or later as necessary;
- working from home;
- job share;
- part-time work;
- compressed working hours – when working hours are the same but over fewer days (e.g. working 20 hours over four days instead of five);
- term-time work – working during term-time with time off (usually unpaid) during the school holidays.
Anyone who has been in employment for over 26 weeks can formally request flexible working. To find out more about your right to flexible working, call the Fit for Work Advice Line on 0800 032 0635 or visit the Fit for Work Advice Hub. Those in Scotland can visit fitforworkscotland.scot or call 0800 019 2211.
If your caring duties have caused you to be off work with sickness for four weeks or more, you can ask your GP or employer to refer you to Fit for Work for free case managed support to help you return to work. Fit for Work assessments will take your caring duties and all other obstacles preventing you from returning to work into account.