Around 6.5 million people in the UK have caring responsibilities, two million of whom have given up work to perform their role. The expectation is that 60% of us will have loved ones to look after at some point in our lives.
According to Family Resources Survey figures, 43% of these carers are looking after an elderly or sick parent, and many require some form of what has become known as ‘granternity leave’ from work.
Indeed, in recognition of our ageing population, the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees, not just parents of young children, back in 2014.
However, just because all staff have a right to ask, it does not mean that employers have a duty to honour their requests. All bosses need to do to avoid it is prove that providing flexibility would, in some way, be detrimental to their business.
Many carers feel they are being treated unfairly when they struggle to get time off to take a parent to a hospital appointment, claiming that parents of young children are treated more generously with time off because their child is unwell.
Emily Holzhausen, director of policy for Carers UK, says Britain is lagging behind many other countries in addressing the ticking time bomb of how, and who, will care for our ever-growing ageing population.
Long gone are the days when most women stayed at home, caring first for children, then for their mothers and fathers. And with so many women now in paid work, it inevitably creates issues, both for staff and their employers, when elderly parents need supporting.
“When we canvass carers who are also holding down jobs, the top two things they tell us they need is paid care leave and understanding from managers,” says Emily.
“Both are given equal weight. Feeling supported by your employer is as significant as not having to worry about a reduced income.”
The charity would like to see legislation entitling employees to between five and ten official days of paid leave to accompany dependants to hospital appointments, or to make care arrangements.
All employees are legally entitled to ‘reasonable’ amounts of unpaid leave to deal with emergencies involving a dependant, whether that be a child, parent, spouse or anyone else for whom they have caring responsibilities.
According to Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS), issues can arise in interpreting what is meant by ‘emergencies’. A child being too sick for school is considered an emergency but taking a relative to a hospital appointment is not. As the ‘reasonable’ amounts of time are not quantified in terms of days, or weeks, or even months, it’s left to managers to come up with.
When it involves children, there’s more of a risk of an employee claiming sex discrimination because, in practice, women tend to have more responsibilities for children then men. However, there’s no such official recognition that women also have caring responsibilities for elderly parents.