Juggling caring responsibilities with employment is sometimes too much. A worker decides they can’t do both and leaves the job. That’s not saying anything new. What is surprising is just how few hours of caring it can take to tip someone from being an employee to leaving work altogether. A new report from Age UK and Carers UR, Walking the Tightrope* finds that ten hours caring per week can stretch to breaking point an older worker’s ability to remain in employment. And those caring for even five hours a week tend to pass up opportunities for promotion or overtime with a knock-on effect on retirement income. ‘Doing the right thing’ can undermine a worker’s financial security.
This new focus group research also highlights the profoundly negative psychological and emotional effects of withdrawing from the workplace. This does depend on the working carer’s occupational group. Those in higher skilled occupations such as managerial or professional roles are likely to make smaller reductions in their working hours than those in lower skilled groups. But the lack of affordable quality caring options, inflexible employers and poor work practices can drive an older worker, defined as being between 50 and 64 years of age, out of employment.
What can be done to support those with caring responsibilities to remain in work?The Carers in Employment project, funded by the Department of Health, Department of Work and Pensions and the Equalities Unit may reveal some answers. This two-year learning and development programme which started in April 2015 and is managed by SCIE, involves nine local authorities across England. Each authority is funded to explore the different ways this challenge can be met. So far activity falls into three broad areas: engagement and awareness with employers, information and advice to carers and assistive technology. (This programme covers all working carers, not only those 50 – 64 years of age.)
Looking to the future, it’s clear that we will need to support more people to successfully combine work and care in later life. In the Age UK report, it’s estimated that carers leaving employment is a substantial drain on the public purse; almost £1.3 billion a year based on the costs of Carer’s Allowance and lost tax revenues on foregone incomes. We also to avoid unnecessary and unsustainable shortfalls in the supply of both workers and carers. Age UK estimates that the additional output from carers if they were able to stay in the workplace could add as much as £5.3 billion a year to the economy. The Carers in Employment programme is being evaluated by the Institute of Employment Studies to ascertain what works to support carers to remain in or to return to work. It reports in 2017.
*Report: Walking the tightrope, Age UK and Carers UK July 2016.