It’s the new year and there’s been a lot in the news about how the elderly are coping through the winter. Many of them are reliant on their families looking after them and elder care is likely to be a growing issue in the UK over the next decades as the population ages.
Since many couples leave it until their 30s to start families, they might be part of the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ of people who are caring for elderly relatives while looking after young children. Companies are beginning to look at the issues this throws up in the workplace. The US has already been grappling with the implications for years. In fact, there it is the main reason women are dropping out of the workplace. In the UK it is estimated that over two million people give up work due to caring responsibilities, a figure that will rise as state services continue to be cut back.
A recent report from the US shows women are more likely than men to provide care to elderly parents and to drop out of the workforce when they do, probably because they are more likely to take on the most onerous and regular parts of elder care.
The research found that seven per cent of the women helped with elderly parents’ personal needs, compared with 3.6 per cent of men. Some 20 per cent helped parents with chores, errands and transportation compared with 16 per cent of men.
Employers are coming to terms with the impact elder care may have on their workforce and there are some innovative policies around.
The Employers for Carers Forum has existed since the late 1990s, but was only launched as a membership forum in 2009. It is chaired by BT and administered by Carers UK. Several of the major employers are on the forum which campaigns to raise awareness of caring issues in the workplace.
Other employers are also doing interesting work. The London School of Economics and Political Science has been running carers workshops and says it can be difficult to attract people who are carers to workshops because they often need leave on a sudden basis and cannot plan in advance for it as those with children can. Also many people who have caring responsibilities do not consider themselves carers since they do not live with their elderly relatives. That means ensuring that any wording on support provided by organisations needs to be as inclusive as possible.
Campaigning organisations are also looking at ways to support the growing number of employees with caring responsibilities. Carers UK has just launched a campaign for statutory paid leave for carers, saying current provision is limited to unpaid emergency leave or usually only a day or two. The charity is calling for a legal right to a minimum of five days paid ‘care leave’ and for a debate on rights to longer periods of leave to care for disabled, older seriously or terminally ill loved ones.
The campaign seems to have strong public backing, with 89% of those polled by YouGov supporting the call for a new right to short periods of time off work to care.
In the meantime, many women are taking matters into their own hands. Jenny Moloney is a financial journalists with two young children, who has also had to look after elderly parents. She had been working for 20 years in financial journalism, including 10 years in senior management at Bloomberg, and had set up her own consultancy when her children were very small. However, two years ago her father had a bad fall and needed support, not just while he was in hospital, but when he was discharged and she also needed to help arrange support for him in the home. Last year her father-in-law suffered similar injuries.
Between work, looking after her children and elder care Jenny felt overstretched and needed more flexibility so she undertook a training course at St James Place Academy and is now a fully fledged financial consultant.
She says: “Corporate companies are now very flexible about childcare, but not necessarily about elder care and it can be very challenging if your parent needs help and they live quite a distance away.
“I now have the opportunity to use my experience, knowledge and skills in the financial services industry in a way that allows me to manage my own time and fit my professional working life around other things.”
It’s an issue an increasing number of parents will face in the future.