The Silent Army
By Deirdre Golden
Reflecting on National Carers Week (7-13 June 2021) really shone a light on the millions of carers in the UK who offer unstinting practical care and emotional support to their loved ones. This silent army of family members (at times including young children) don’t always receive financial support or official recognition, but without whom the existing fragile social care system would collapse.
In the UK one in eight adults are carers (58% of whom are women) and one in seven of the workforce are carers. And in common with many other developed nations the number of carers will grow as population’s age and people live longer. In 2019, 18.51 percent of the UK population were over 65 years of age; and more than one fifth (20.3 %) of the EU-27 population was aged 65 and over and is projected to continue to grow until the mid 2030s.
Organisations can play an important role in supporting working carers. Parenting and caring can oftentimes be lumped together in an organisation, but whilst they are two side of the same coin there is one fundamental difference: Babies and young children grow up and gradually become more independent (this of course is not always the case for differently abled children). Generally speaking, parents are also better recognised by the State for what they do and have access to more support (nurseries; childminders; schools; clubs etc).
Carers do not have the same level of State recognition or support, and the support they need may be for indeterminate periods of time. Caring requires physical and emotional resilience and can come at a time when carers themselves are getting older, putting additional physical, emotional and financial strain on the carer.
How can employers help?
- Recognise carers as needing different support to parents. They shouldn’t have to compete for scarce resources such as flexibility. The flexibility they require is not confined to holiday periods; it is on-going and subject to crisis management when medical emergency or hospitalization is needed at short notice.
- Provide opportunities for sabbaticals. Sometimes the care requirement can be very high due to a crisis, and there isn’t a nursery or a childminder to fall back on. A sabbatical may be a help for a period of time to enable the carers to adjust to a new situation, or find external support, but without the fear of losing their job.
- Provide a toolkit of information with practical, welfare advice or support. For example:
- Cancer charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support; Prostate UK; BreastCancerNow, all provide specialised advice and support to individuals and their carers at highly emotional times.
- Many large organizations, for example, in the Motor/Finance/Postal sectors have charitable foundations which may be able to provide financial or welfare support for ex workers. Carers should be encouraged to apply for support if their loved one has worked there previously;
- Veterans (or their spouse/partner) can access organizations such as SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Air Families Association) or the British Legion to seek welfare support.
- Consider providing financial support direct to charities that provide much needed emotional and specialized knowledge support that an EAP cannot always offer. Oftentimes EAPs refer employees on to these charities, but whilst the EAP is funded by the organization, the Charity may not be.
- Caring can be emotionally draining. Check that mental health support includes provision for carers.
The theme for this years carers week is Make Caring Visible and Valued, employers can help make this happen.
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