Working and Caring was the theme of the recent Central Bedfordshire Carers Partnership facilitated by Carers in Bedfordshire on behalf of Central Bedfordshire Council.
14 carers and 10 professionals, representing ELFT, Job Centre Plus, BRCC & Shared Lives, were joined by guest speakers from Timewise, Employers for Carers (Carers UK) and Central Bedfordshire Council Human Resource department to discuss the issues faced by carers either looking for work or juggling work and caring.
The evening was opened by Helen Satterthwaite, CEO of Carers in Bedfordshire. She explained that the issue of Carers and Working was at the forefront of the government’s agenda in the National Action Plan for Carers. The question for the evening was “What can we do in Bedfordshire to make working and caring better?”
Timewise’s Poornima Kirloskar-Saini explained that the ethos of Timewise was to make flexibility the norm rather than the exception. Flexible working could mean a number of different arrangements, such as part-time hours, working from home, term-time only, annualised hours, job share, flexible start and finish, or a compressed week. Research shows that only 11.1% of jobs advertised are for flexible roles, however, 53% of the workforce work flexibly. The norm has become to work normal hours at first and then later (usually after 26 weeks) put in a request to work flexibly. Timewise provides a website that advertises flexible jobs and they work with employers helping them to create jobs that have flexible working conditions. They have recently been commissioned by the government to set up a Carer Hub which provides a job site for carers as well as articles for employees on how to approach employers about flexible working hours.
Next to speak was Katherine Wilson from Employers for Carers, an organisation set up by Carers UK. She highlighted that the 2011 Census showed that there were 3 million carers combining work and caring. That suggests 1 in 9 people in the workplace are currently caring, and in some sectors this could increase to 1 in 5. Employers for Carers are currently working with around 100 organisations and help companies think about what they can do to support carers in the workplace. There are many benefits for businesses to identify and support carers. These include improved recruitment and retention, reduced costs and reduced staff turnover, reduced absenteeism and increased staff loyalty.
The final presenter was David Waller from Human Resources, Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC). CBC currently employ over 6000 staff from the local area. David explained that there was not a “one size fits all” policy, identifying a solution involves detailed discussions between HR, the line manager and the employee to find the right fit. He identified a number of policies that carers might be able to use to have flexible work: Flexi-time schedule, Compressed hours, Time off from work, Carer Break Scheme, Employee Assistance Programme, Flexible Retirement. These policies are not unique to CBC and can be found in many large businesses.
After the presentations, a number of questions and points were raised.
Why were there so few term-time only contracts? Term-time jobs are wanted by more people than there are jobs available. They are usually found in schools and there is a lot of competition for them. Unfortunately, there are not many jobs that can be done term-time only. There needs to be in-depth discussions on how this can be achieved. CBC have managed to make some jobs term-time only in auditing and finance but the majority are in schools. One possibility is to do the majority of hours in term-time plus a couple of weeks during the holidays.
Isn’t flexible working a legal right for everyone? What is a good – rather than a legally compliant - employer in terms of flexible working? Legally compliant employers will be willing to discuss flexible working after you have been employed for 26 weeks. A good employer will allow ‘Day One rights’ and will allow a line manager the discretion to agree informal flexibility to accommodate the changing nature of the caring role. Ideally, the right to flexible working patterns would happen from day one rather than waiting. Flexibility should be seen as a business strategy and not an add-on. For more information on this topic.
One carer found that though she had been given a flexible working arrangement it required fixed days which couldn’t be moved if her child became unwell on those days. This led to a general discussion about carers who work shift patterns. The speakers recommended that a Plan B was always created to deal with any unplanned absences and to discuss with the team what can be done to minimise disruption.
Some carers found that they were taking flexi-time and/or annual leave to deal with appointments which meant that they did not actually get any rest. It was recommended that carers looked at their company’s policies as many employers have policies covering Special Leave and Compassionate Leave but they are not widely publicised. Carers UK are currently campaigning for statutory Carers Leave.
One carer mentioned the issues he had when returning to work after he had been caring for his wife. On his CV, the reason for the career break as “caring” was not seen by potential employers as sufficient. From the employers’ perspective, taking a career break meant that he lacked up-to-date skills particularly software packages. This was acknowledged as a common problem for many who have had to take a career break for one reason or another. The presenters recommended that work experience through volunteering was a good way of demonstrating recent skill base. CBC explained that they were offering a Work Experience programme for all ages and backgrounds.
To finish, suggestions were put forward by carers and professionals attending the meeting in answer to “What can agencies working to support carers do to help caring and working in Bedfordshire?”
Set up a register of local “carer friendly” companies who can provide flexible working arrangements, especially the larger organisations.
Hold a forum for employers to raise awareness of the issues faced by working carers and to highlight the benefits of employing working carers.
Make sure that carers know what their statutory rights are in regards to work
Provide advice to carers on how to approach the topic of flexible working with employers, both at interview, and within work
Help carers to recognise the strengths and skills gained from caring
Presentations available to view and download here: