- Posted Wednesday July 13, 2022
This month is Good Care Month, where the valuable work that carers do is celebrated, and the role is promoted as a vital and rewarding career path. There are thought to be around five million people across the UK today providing unpaid care, by looking after an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend.
Current trends suggest that by 2036, one in four of the population will be over 65; that’s a lot of people potentially needing looking after. We’re living longer, (though not always healthier) lives and that means there is a growing and continuous need for care workers.
But many people who care for older or ill people are not doing it as a professional choice – they are often relatives who do it unpaid, in addition to a job. That poses questions for employers as to how to support employees who have a responsibility as care workers. Employers have a duty of care to protect the health and wellbeing of their employees, which means they need to consider the pressure some staff face in their work-life balance, and the fact they will sometimes need leave to carry out their other commitments.
Who is a Carer?
The Citizen’s Advice website says the following about who carers are likely to be. You’re probably a carer if all of the following apply:
- you do things like helping someone to wash, dress and eat; taking them to regular appointments, doing their shopping or keeping them company.
- you aren’t paid to look after the person you’re caring for.
- you spend a lot of time caring for the person - there’s no legal definition of this, but it could mean anything from a few hours a day, to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- you may or may not live with the person you’re caring for.
A Carers Policy is therefore a vital document for any employer, including a GP surgery. Without one, there may be uncertainty and anxiety from both employers and staff as to their rights and responsibilities, which may lead to undesirable outcomes for both parties. For example, a staff member may end up using their annual leave to cover medical appointments and other caring duties they have to fulfil.
The Government launched a consultation on Carer’s Leave in March 2020, recognising that unpaid carers face particular challenges in balancing work and caring responsibilities that may warrant a specific new employment right to time off from work.
The new entitlement to statutory carer’s leave will:
- be available to the employee irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer (a day one right);
- rely on the carer’s relationship with the person being cared for, which should broadly follow the definition of dependant used in the right to time off for dependants – a spouse, civil partner, child, parent, a person who lives in the same household as the employee (other than by reason of them being their employee, tenant, lodger, or boarder) or a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care; and
- depend on the person being cared for having a long-term care need. This would be defined as a long-term illness or injury (physical or mental), a disability as defined under the Equality Act 2010, or issues related to old age. There would be limited exemptions from the requirement for long-term care, for example in the case of terminal illness.
The leave could be used for providing personal support, helping with official or financial matters, or accompanying someone to medical and other appointments.
What else can employers do to support carers?
- Introduce a Carers Policy. This could offer special types of leave to carers and provide more clarity around how the GP practice will support those with caring responsibilities.
- Direct the employee towards external support. Point your staff towards organisations or charities such as Carers UK. You could also encourage the employee to contact your Employee Assistance Programme if you have one.
- Discuss with the employee how you, the Practice and even colleagues can support them with their caring responsibilities. An employee who feels properly supported by both the Practice and colleagues will likely feel less anxious about taking time off for their caring responsibilities and be more engaged and motivated at work.
- Arrange regular one-to-ones or ad-hoc catch ups as needed to support carers. Regular communication is essential to understand the needs of carers, especially since their situation can change suddenly and unexpectedly.
- Encourage employees to make a request for flexible working. If Practice Managers know an employee has caring responsibilities or is going to be taking on caring responsibilities, you could encourage them to put in a flexible working request.
Social care can change lives. It is one of the things that holds society together and lets people live the lives they otherwise could only dream of. The work carers do, whether paid or unpaid, recognised or not, should be celebrated this month and all year round.
First Practice Management members can download a sample Carers Policy now by heading to our Policies and Procedures Library. Members can also email email@example.com to answer any other questions you may have about tackling this sensitive issue.