By Debbie le Quesne

Time to support work rights of unpaid carers

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There is someone I know whose wife has a long-term, progressive and debilitating condition. He once worked for one of the most progressive companies in the Midlands and enjoyed success in his profession and the support of management at director level.

Whenever there was a crisis with his wife the bosses were always compassionate. The man’s work ethic was, in my opinion amazing, a view shared by his colleagues.

But then one day everything changed. A new regime of management was brought in as profits took a dive and the man was told in no uncertain terms that all medial appointments – and there were plenty – had to be taken as complete days off.

The fact that hours were more than compensated for and that the majority of medical commitments were perhaps at most a three-hour ‘leave’ was dismissed. Systematically the workplace support he had enjoyed for some 12 years was chipped away. His impossible domestic situation was perceived as problem and he was sidelined until he was broken by pressure.

The year previous to him leaving to find more enlightened employers, he could have used every day of his holiday entitlement to cover medical appointments with his wife.

The good new is that this caring person is now enjoying success in his new-found work, has the privilege of operating from home when he needs to and while his directors value his creative flare, understand too they need to cut a little slack every now and then. All round a happy outcome, but in my experience this a rare success.

It’s timely that a new campaign paid time off for carers is being launched. Some 5 million people have given up partly or entirely to look after others.

Carers UK believes the time is now to call 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 or seriously or terminally ill loved-ones.

At the moment you can be sacked for acting with compassion and staying away from work to look after somebody in a health crisis. I know there a users and spongers, who will try and work the system, but the total number of people now acting as unpaid carers is equivalent to the population of Scotland.

In a depressed economy – despite the ‘spin’ that everything is hunky-dory the care sector is seeing very few green shoots of promise – employers will doubtless protest and say it disadvantages them. I understand – I too employ staff.

But it’s a culture thing we need to address here.

Countries that have embraced family care policies include: Germany, Ireland, Taiwan, Japan, America, France and the Netherlands.

It’s something we will eventually have to do because of the rapid growth of our ageing population. Perhaps the access to domiciliary care and sitter services need to be easier? Maybe the government should show some commitment to the unsung, unpaid carers who sacrifice their own jobs and careers for loved-ones – a bit of legislation to help them wouldn’t go amiss. I hear the cries of ‘where’s the money coming from?’ Here’s my reply: Perhaps the same place that sees the HS2 “engine for growth” investment as more important than supporting a creaking care sector.

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