Our recent Annual Conference: Back to the Future included the panel discussion “The circle of life: who cares?” with speakers Natalie Quilter, Eleni Katsoulis, Chantel Emery and Daniel Cadey talking about working carers. Read the highlights from the session by our Disability Business Partner Becky Elliott.
Watching our Annual Conference remotely, I was looking forward to “The circle of life: who cares?” panel discussion. I loved that it was provocatively entitled to make us sit up and take notice.
As Natalie Quilter (Notting Hill Genesis), Eleni Katsoulis (Natwest Group) and Chantel Emery and Dan Cadey (both from BDF), shared their intensely personal lived experiences of caring for their loved ones, they all recalled the moment when they realised they had become “a carer”. It was different for each. Natalie remembered her childhood, putting on the washing and caring for her disabled mum. For Dan, it was the day before he started his new job working for BDF. For Chantel, it was after the birth of her youngest children.
This reminded me of my own “I’m-a-carer” realisation moment, when my mum had a fall and became disabled. I was just at the start of my legal career, busy trying to balance caring for her, looking after my own young family and holding down my day job as a trainee Legal Executive at the same time. Then I wondered when my own son first realised that he was a “young carer”. Was it when he pushed my new wheelchair at the museum visit on his birthday trip to London? Or was it earlier, when he first carried a shopping bag for me when I used my crutches to walk?
As the panel discussion progressed, I was stunned to realise how little I knew about the huge numbers of people working as carers. Especially as it turns out that 60% of those who care for others actually have a disability or health condition themselves. That’s a huge percentage, and those carers will already be facing barriers to participation in their lives, as well as trying to dismantle barriers in the lives of those they care for.
So who is helping those carers to stay in work, or are they all facing the choices I once had to make – to care or to earn?
In a world where we need to be able to choose to do both, some of the panel suggestions gave me hope. Let’s include carers as a group to consider, in any organisational D&I impact assessments. We should develop flexible working practices, over and above the legal minimum required, as well as robust policy and procedures to help carers access the flexibility they need to wear both hats – carer and employee – some of the time.
And finally, we need to remember that flexibility may look different for each person and answers to the caring conundrum may not lie in a simple “working from home” arrangement.
Dan spoke of struggling to work from his childhood bedroom for two years during Covid, when he was caring for his mum, and Natalie spoke of her hours at work being her protected time, away from the responsibilities of care. Chantel pointed out that, if a carer works from home, the invaluable external support structures still need to be put in place to enable respite in times of need.
I expect the answer lies in encouraging talking and listening, giving your employees reassurance about what help they can ask for, to build confidence in the system and encourage them to open up about their caring responsibilities in the first place. Flexibility is key because when you are a carer because you can’t predict the unpredictable emergency event.
None of us know what lies around the corner and as life comes full circle, we may end up being the carers ourselves, so shouldn’t we do our best to prepare our workplaces so that we can stay at work when that time comes?