Nine out of 10 back giving carers right to time-off

Nine out of 10 people would back a change in the law to give people caring for sick and elderly loved-ones the right to extra time off work, a new poll shows.

The findings come as a report argues that the UK is lagging behind some of the world’s leading economies in providing rights for carers and warns it could experience a skills crisis with millions of skilled workers forced to sacrifice their careers or risk burnout as they try to juggle full-time work and caring responsibilities.

Jackie Ashley, the journalist and wife of the broadcaster Andrew Marr, is leading a new campaign for new workplace rights for carers with the charity Carers UK.

Earlier this year Ms Ashley was forced to put her work on hold to spend several months as her husband’s full-time carer after he suffered a stroke at the age of 53.

The charity is campaigning for workers with caring responsibilities to have a right to between five and 10 days of emergency leave in a year.

But it is also calling for a national debate in the run-up to the next general election on the possibility of giving carers rights to something to maternity leave.

Business groups have argued that any extra legal requirements on top of the current flexible working rights could damage their ability to operate.

But Ms Ashley said many of the arguments against new rights for carers echoed the belief that the “sky would fall in” when statutory maternity leave was introduced.

Earlier his year the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt accused employers of failing to do enough to help those struggling to balance work and care commitments.

He said the situation must change to because of Britain’s rapidly ageing population and a looming “dementia time bomb”.

There are now around 6.5 million people in the UK with some caring responsibilities, according to the last census – a figure which has risen by a tenth in a decade.

More than two million of them have given up work entirely to care, while Carers UK estimates that another three million have had to reduce their hours.

Polling by YouGov for Carers UK found that 89 per cent of people would support giving carers a new right to short periods off work.

Six out of 10 supported short periods of paid leave for carers while a further third backed unpaid time off to care for relatives. Only one in 20 openly opposed any extra leave rights.

Ms Ashley said that it was time to go further and consider keeping carers’ jobs open for the for longer periods in a similar way to maternity leave.

“I remember this argument when I was having my children 25 years ago,” she said.

“When I first announced I was pregnant I was told to go and get rid of it.

“They really were angry about maternity leave than but now it is just accepted that it is part of working life, I am hoping that carers’ leave becomes the same kind of thing.

“The demographics of this country mean that more and more people are living longer but many of them with conditions that need care, such as the after effects of stroke or Parkinson’s.

“Often it is only for a relatively short period of time: it could be six months, it could be a year.

“A lot of people contacted me after I spoke publicly and all said we had to give up work and then we couldn’t get back.

“This way the job would be kept open for you.”

Heléna Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “Millions of people caring for parents with dementia, ill partners or disabled sons and daughters are left using up all their holiday leave, can often become exhausted and many feel forced to give up work altogether.

“This is unsustainable, and families, businesses and the economy will pay an increasing price as growing numbers of stressed workers burnout trying to juggle work and family responsibilities without support.”