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Future Care: The Case for Care Leave

Families, work and the ageing population

As society faces the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population, longer life expectancies and extended working lives, more and more people are trying to manage work alongside caring for older, seriously ill or disabled loved ones. The pressure that working carers find themselves under as a result has seen just over 1 in 5 UK adults’ work negatively affected as a result of caring, including 2.3 million who have given up work and almost 3 million who have reduced their working hours to care at some point.

The Government has recognised the importance of parents of young children, particularly mothers, having the option to stay in or return to work after having a child – not only for families but for businesses and the economy. Yet, while childcare is an issue that affects millions of people with young children across the UK, caring is an issue that will affect us all. The vast majority of people have parents who are likely to need help as they get older, and many families also support disabled or chronically ill siblings, partners or children who need assistance into adulthood.

The evidence base for supporting working carers is growing, and it is compelling. With the public expenditure costs of carers feeling unable to continue to work estimated at £1.3 billion a year2, it is crucial that we take steps to help carers stay in work. There is an opportunity to turn these losses into economic gains, with public finances seeing an estimated £1 billion in additional tax revenues if carers can be supported back into the workplace. Employers too have found that supporting carers leads to improved service delivery, cost savings and increased productivity.

Many employers have realised the value of retaining the carers in their workforce and have policies in place to support their employees with caring responsibilities. Working carers also have some important existing statutory rights. For example, the right to request flexible working represents a vital step towards helping people to manage work with complex and demanding family lives. However, with so many carers falling out of work because they feel that they cannot continue to manage work alongside caring, it is clear that not enough is being done.

This research shows that the UK is falling far behind other countries, many of which are finding creative solutions to support their workforce and address the challenges of ageing populations. If the UK is to cope with the critical demographic challenge we are facing and reap the social and economic benefits of helping carers to juggle work and care then more must be done. With 89% of the public in support of a right to a short period of time off work to care, it is time for policy makers to make statutory care leave a priority.