In June Carers Week 2022 published a report highlighting the challenges facing working carers in the UK.
To discuss the implications for employers, I brought together Vivek Patni, CEO of care service access provider WeMa, and Max Lintott, UK General Manager of financial wellbeing platform Wagestream.
Both WeMa and Wagestream are actively engaged in helping working carers cope with the burden of caring for sick or elderly relatives, and their perspective on the report’s findings were enlightening and provocative!
Here is a brief extract from our conversation:
One statistic that stood out to me in the Carers Week report is that workers on lower incomes are disproportionately impacted by the need to provide unpaid care for a loved one – 34% of carers with an annual household income of £20,000 or less are caring for over 20 hours a week, compared to 24% of carers from higher income households.
For me that cuts right to the heart of why employers need to help their people on lower incomes access services and manage their day-to-day finances.
Because you’re more likely to face mental health issues due to your inability to be able to get the help you need, or to speak up about the problems you’re facing, because of the fear of losing your job, or whatever it might be.
I think there are two angles to this.
Firstly, the number of people now caring for their family has significantly increased; there were 4.5 million additional informal carers in the UK in the 6 months from the start of Covid back in early 2020 (2.6 million of these were working carers). Did you know, by 2025 there will be more adults of working age with adult dependents compared with child dependents?
As well has having little knowledge of how to care, finding time to do so around work, and not being paid for the care they deliver, two-thirds of these carers are in fact using their own income and savings to cover the cost of care for their loved ones, 40% of which are struggling to make ends meet. It’s these people that we’re really trying to support with the WeMa service, because they’re struggling massively.
Secondly, there’s the shortage of professional care workers – and the challenge you’ve got there is that it’s a very low paid job. This is one of the biggest factors as to getting more people coming into those jobs, but it’s also a very difficult, demanding job which must be respected much more than it currently is. The lack of professional carers puts more pressure back on the informal carer.
To build on what you were saying about the impact on these people, Therese, other research has shown that 54% of carers suffer from negatively impacted financial wellbeing, 70% suffer with mental ill health, and 60% struggle with physical ill health due to the burden of delivering that care.
Add to that the fact that the Carers Week report says that more than 10.5 million adults in the UK are now acting as unpaid carers. I mean, there are only 12 million frontline workers in the UK and there are only around 30 million employees in all, so around a third of the total workforce are impacted by this.
And the burden will often fall on lower-income households which aren’t given access to affordable private healthcare to help.
I think that’s why this conversation is really timely. If you look at the social care market, everyone’s trying to figure out how are people going to fund their care moving forward, because they’ll definitely be a very limited amount of money going into it through the state.
The cost per hour of privately funded homecare can range anything from £19 to £30 per hour – the average is estimated to be £21.50. So, based on 2 hours a day, 5 days a week of care required for an individual who’s got, say, early-stage dementia, that’s about £13,500 a year.
So, the question is what kind of support can we put in place around access to care services and the finances to pay for that care?
We also have to remember that some of that support is short term. If an elderly relative has just come out of hospital I don’t need six weeks off, but I desperately need two or three days.
So, I think the thing that employees want more than anything, is some flexibility. And what you’re both giving in different ways is a new flexibility for people to be able to shape and live their lives.
Vivek, your WeMa service is helping working carers to connect quickly and simply with healthcare providers in the community, removing the massive stress and distraction of accessing the services their loved ones need.
And Max, Wagestream, for example, might be helping someone in a situation where they’ve just had to fork out £50 or £60 on some stuff from Amazon that’s going to help an elderly person coming out of hospital live their life a bit easier. When you’re on £20,000 or less, you’re a frontline worker, and you’ve budgeted every single penny, and you’ve got all the utilities going up, how can you afford this stuff that then comes on top? Being able to access the wages you’ve already earned can be a lifesaver in that kind of situation.
I’d like to add to that too. We’re now finalizing an income protection insurance to cover people on zero-hours contracts for sick leave.
On a zero-hours contract if you don’t do any hours you don’t get any money, right? So, there’s a very innovative insurance company we’re working with to underwrite it so that you can insure yourself very cheaply – it’s hopefully going to be something like £2.00-3.00 a month to insure yourself for a set number of weeks’ pay if you get sick.
We’re still ironing out the details but could imagine a very similar product to insure against time off for care.
I think the bottom line here is that there’s no money from state to support working carers – and there’s going to be limited funding for social care going forward.
So, it’s going to come down to employers giving their people the support they need to deal with it in their own way. I wonder what incentives the government could give to businesses to stimulate business-backed support?
And I think the more we can get that into the mindset of the CEOs and the board – the people that are making decisions around the table – the better, because this has got to go faster up the agenda.
It shouldn’t be this difficult for working carers!