Flexible working should be a ‘day one’ right for carers, say MPs

Carers should be entitled to request flexible working from the first day of their employment, a report published today by an influential parliamentary committee has urged.

The report from the work and pensions select committee noted that flexibility was crucial in allowing carers to balance their caring responsibilities with workplace demands.

Under existing law, individuals have a right to request flexible working but only after they have been with their employer for 26 weeks. The select committee warned that this often forced carers to use annual leave or take sick days to fulfil their caring responsibilities during that time.

There are an estimated three million people – or one in nine of the UK’s workforce – balancing care with paid work. The report flagged that, under existing legislation, many carers “conclude that caring and work cannot be combined”.

Emily Holzhausen, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK, told People Management: “People who are carers are often not necessarily identified in the workplace, but we know one in six have given up work to care at some point in their careers, which can have devastating consequences on their finances. This can in part be changed by introducing different employment practices… as our population ages, the number of carers is only going to increase, so we need to be thinking ahead.”

The report calls on the government to amend the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 to put in place a right to request flexible working from the first day of employment, putting an end to the six-month “period of uncertainty” that can deter carers from staying in work.

“The vast majority of carers want to continue working and, with the productivity challenge this country faces, this change makes real economic sense,” Holzhausen said.

“Changing legislation is important because it drives cultural change, and enables businesses that are aware of the benefits to implement them quickly. But a broader cultural change is also needed, and greater support offered to smaller businesses that are less flexible because they can’t afford to lose particular staff.”

A further report recommendation urges the government to consider extending existing legislation around parental leave to offer five days of statutory paid leave for carers who have to take time off work at short notice; a move Holzhausen described as “crucial”, particularly for carers with lower incomes.

Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead and chair of the work and pensions committee, said the government had a responsibility to “lead on both practice and policy”, adding: “[Carers] are a great untapped resource for our high-employment, low-productivity economy – and a sorely unrecognised one.

“They contribute hundreds of billions of pounds in unpaid work to our economy, which is not counted on any Treasury balance sheet. Ensuring work pays and that employers adapt to accommodate caring is not just good for the carers: it is necessary for the whole economy.”