Sometimes, progress or improvement can be hampered by the language we use. Terms, phrases – even individual words – can, in certain contexts, appear limiting and reductive. And when those words are applied to individuals or groups of people, even more so.
Unpaid carers – those looking after family or friends – rarely identify themselves as such. And why would any of us want to be limited to one description? Caring, though a significant part of the daily lives of many of us, does not – and should not – define us. When we have significant caring responsibilities, we are very likely to have interests and aspirations pre-dating our current situation - and quite possibly put on hold, or even abandoned, because of it. The desire to continue working, though driven partly by economic factors, is also the desire to find fulfilment beyond caring.
That’s why Minister for Care and Support Norman Lamb, the then Minister for Women (now also Education Secretary) Nicky Morgan and Minister for Pensions Steve Webb wrote to local authorities recently asking for expressions of interest in a proposed series of pilots looking at ways to help adult carers stay in work. Specifically, these local pilots would explore ways to:
- develop diverse regional care markets incorporating consideration for employees’ care and support obligations
- maximise assistive technologies to support carers and the cared for in the pursuit of independent living
- work with local employers to make best use of flexible working arrangements to retain and develop their workforces
- improve access for carers to information and resources designed to help them stay in work.
This joint endeavour between our respective departments is recognition of the difficulties involved in trying to balance careers with caring obligations. It’s a situation likely to affect many of us as an aging population places increasing demands upon those of us wishing to provide care and support.
Personal fulfilment is one aspect of this project but there is a business benefit too (set against the estimated £1.3billion annual cost to the economy of those unable to remain in work). In many cases, it may be older, more experienced colleagues who need flexibility to continue working whilst also caring for loved ones. If solutions cannot be found, businesses risk losing the accumulated wisdom of years. At the other end of the spectrum, younger employees starting out in their careers may feel no choice but to cut short ambitions if responsibilities at home compel them to give up work.
I believe, therefore, it’s beholden upon local authorities, Health and Wellbeing Boards and local enterprise partnerships to encourage adoption of the principles above, irrespective of their locality’s involvement in these pilots. That said, I would encourage local authorities to get involved. 15 August 2014 is the deadline by which expressions of interest must be submitted. If successful, the chosen sites will be apportioned funds from a pot of up to £1million - available for two years.
This is another opportunity to demonstrate the growing awareness that the needs of carers and the cared for cannot be addressed in isolation. And of course, this is an issue being addressed more broadly by our current Care Act consultation to which I urge you to lend your views.
Greater workplace flexibility benefits all parties: it engenders business continuity and provides peace of mind for employees and the friends and family they support. Never mind the economic value to UK plc – it is simply the right thing to do.
For more information:
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or bridget.west6@GEO.gov.uk