A big juggle: what can employers and policymakers do to support working carers?
21 Aug 2018
There has been increased government interest in the challenges of combining work and care, and in what can be done to help carers of working age. The government-funded Carers in Employment project, for example, which ran from 2015 to 2017, tested a range of activities and interventions aimed at supporting carers to remain in, or return to, the workplace. IES was commissioned to carry out an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the interventions tested, and in this article we summarise some of the key findings and their implications for public policy on working carers.
According to 2011 census data, one in nine workers in the UK has informal caring responsibilities, defined by government as a private arrangement whereby someone cares for a family member, friend, or neighbour. For many individuals, reconciling work and care is difficult; over a quarter of carers of working-age report that caring responsibilities affect their ability to take up or stay in employment. A 2017 survey of around 7,000 carers by Carers UK reported that nearly half of respondents (46%) felt that their caring role impacted negatively on their employment because they were often tired, stressed or late. An earlier survey showed that over two million people had given up work at some point to care for family, and three million had reduced their working hours.
The Carers in Employment (CiE) project set out to examine ‘what works’ in supporting carers to remain in or return to employment by testing a range of interventions. Nine local authorities in England were selected to take part in the project and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) co-ordinated and supported the delivery. To carry out our evaluation of the effectiveness of the various interventions delivered, IES researchers talked to 70 carers and 20 employers as well as project workers, and analysed data collected by CiE project teams. Researchers also conducted 16 interviews with recipients of care to explore any knock-on impacts of the support that the CiE project provided to their carer.Project activities and approaches
Each of the nine CiE project sites varied in the range of activities provided for carers and/or employers. Typical CiE activities included:
Information, advice and guidance to carers, for example:Advice on assistive technology, free trials and home installation of equipment to help maintain contact with the cared-for person and to alert carers to emergencies.
carer assessments with a work focus;
health, career and financial advice;
direct advocacy involving carers and their employers, for example a CiE team member might help the carer negotiate flexible working;
‘signposting’ to local specialist services that the carer may not have been previously aware of; and
negotiation of work placements and training for carers wishing to move into work.
Employer-focused measures, to raise awareness of potential solutions to help employed carers, delivered through:
roadshows and direct marketing;
the promotion of carer support toolkits;
training for line managers on how to support working carers; and
templates to help employers develop workplace policies for carers.
The SCIE project reached more than two thousand carers and nearly 400 employers. Often contact with carers was ‘light touch’ in nature, consisting of a brief conversation with a member of staff and/or the provision of leaflets or information, or advice and guidance materials. A smaller number of carers and employers received more intensive support, in the form of a focused carer’s assessment, tailored signposting to support services or, in some cases, regular ongoing contact with a support worker.
Outcomes for carers
Support and contact provided through the CiE project was reported as making a positive difference to carers’ sense of overall wellbeing. The emotional and practical support provided to carers from project delivery staff was reported to lead to increased morale and increased ‘self-care’ among carers. It had the important beneficial result of reducing the sense of isolation typically experienced by people who provide care for others.
Staying in work
The evaluation findings suggest that named caseworkers assigned to deliver bespoke information, advice and guidance to working carers may be effective in helping working carers to continue in work. Advocacy and support worker services provided by the project were reported to have helped working carers cope better. In particular, carers benefited from help at crucial ‘tipping points’, ie domestic crises that could otherwise have had a more detrimental effect on an individual’s ability to maintain the balance of care and work.
Some carers reported that assistive technology had helped them stay in employment by reducing their need to interrupt their work to check on the cared-for person. Where it was suitable, assistive technology solutions were reported to offer peace of mind regarding the status of the cared-for person and may also therefore have had a beneficial effect on improved carer productivity at work.
More informed decision-making
Carers’ awareness of existing help available was improved, including local voluntary provision and welfare benefits. There was no evidence that CiE activities helped carers increase their working hours or earnings. In fact, the opportunity to consider issues and information provided through the CiE initiative led some carers to reduce their working hours or ‘downshift’ to a lower paid, less demanding job. This in turn allowed some carers to achieve a better balance of continuing in work while caring.
Outcomes for employers
Qualitative findings indicated that the project raised employer awareness of the realities facing working carers, leading to a more supportive workplace culture. Some employers introduced carer-friendly HR policies and practices as a result of the pilot, such as flexible working arrangements and guidance for line managers. Employers reported benefits from knowing where support was available and signposting staff to available help.
The initiative provided lessons about how best to target employers and indicated that both local and national action is important. While some employers were able to make workplace changes at local or worksite level, others with a national presence were not able to introduce new policies for staff without head office authorisation.
Where to now?
Our evaluation provided new information on ‘what works’ to support working carers, particularly in relation to boosting their morale, helping them to maintain their wellbeing and understanding their rights at work. More generally, the project raised awareness among all involved and left some important legacies: in some local authorities where CiE operated, it influenced statutory carer assessments, so that these authorities now take work circumstances into account more effectively.
A key finding was that more intensive support delivered more tangible outcomes and benefits for carers and employers than ‘light-touch’ support. Short, regular conversations – face-to-face, over the phone or on email with the same member of CiE site staff – were reported as helping carers gain emotional resilience and build self-esteem in their ability to continue in paid employment. This suggests that it would be helpful to target government funds towards supporting a smaller number of carers with more intensive assistance, possibly following up initial light-touch contact with intensive engagement. While this approach arguably means some carers may miss out, more targeted support reduces the risk of providing resources to carers who don’t require them.
A parliamentary inquiry took place earlier this year, which addressed employment support for carers and how barriers to employment for this group can be reduced. IES fed into this inquiry at an oral evidence session to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in February. The Committee recently reported on their findings, making recommendations on eligibility criteria for Carer’s Allowance, provision of statutory leave for carers, and wider entitlement to flexible-working arrangements. The government’s response to these recommendations has just been published. We’ve read this response with interest and will be monitoring activities in this area of policy closely with a view to providing further updates in the near future.
 Department of Health and Social Care (2016), ‘How can we improve support for carers?’, Department of Health and Social Care [Online]. Available at: https:// consultations.dh.gov.uk/carers/how-can-weimprove- support-for-carers/ [Accessed: 13 July 2018]
 Health and Social Care Information Centre (2010), Survey of Carers in Households – England, 2009-10, Health and Social Care Information Centre
 Carers UK (2017), State of Caring 2017, Carers UK
 Carers UK, YouGov (2014), Caring & Family Finances Inquiry UK Report, Carers UK
 Work and Pensions Committee (2018), ‘Support for carers inquiry’, Work and Pensions Committee [Online]. Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/ business/committees/committees-a-z/commonsselect/ work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/ parliament-2017/support-carers-inquiry-17-19/ [Accessed: 13 July 2018]