‘Help us become a carer-friendly Leeds for workers’

OFFERING SUPPORT: Carers Leeds chief executive, Val Hewison, chats to employer Chris Walker from British Gas.
OFFERING SUPPORT: Carers Leeds chief executive, Val Hewison, chats to employer Chris Walker from British Gas.
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Juggling a full-time job while being responsible for caring for someone is an everyday struggle for hundreds of people in Leeds.

But the pressure of the juggling act is mounting for many, a leading charity is today warning, as the number of working carers in the city rises.

Carers Leeds is calling on businesses to support working carers in the workplace and help create a carer-friendly city.

Today the YEP is showcasing the work going on in Leeds to make that happen to mark the launch of national Carers Week, which runs all this week.

“What we realised when we looked at the people we were supporting was that there was a real sway from older carers to working age carers,” said Val Hewison, chief executive of Carers Leeds.

“A lot of our carers were between the age of 35 and 55 so we realised a lot of them were of working age.

“From that we knew just how important it is for employers across this wonderful city to recognise, acknowledge and really support the carers that they have in the workplace.”

Carers Leeds launched its Working Carers Service three years ago with the aim of supporting those working while caring for someone.

And last year, the charity started the Working Carers Employers Forum, to use input from employers in the city to help improve the support it offers.

“Instead of us just saying, ‘we support working carers’, what we had to do was change the hearts and minds of employers,” Ms Hewison said.

“It wasn’t for carers to have to make their case and wave their flag; it should be employers who say, ‘what, and who have we got in our workforce? Because those people are valuable. We don’t want them to leave, be under stress or be under the radar.’”

Carers Leeds has since worked with both businesses and working carers through its forum, to identify what the issues are for those carers, and what the impact is on employers who do not support working carers.

The forum, which now has about 20 member businesses, meets every three months.

“For many people it comes along very gradually, it can be that you start to go from just looking after your mum at a weekend, to doing her shopping every night and going in to check she is alright,” Ms Hewison said. “So all of a sudden it can become quite stressful and impact on your work, but we just kind of keep on going.”

Since launching the Working Carers Service, the charity now also offers a package that employers can access.

The package provides on-site support for carers, training and information for groups, digital help, training for managers and staff and self-assessment tools.

“What we were hearing from carers was, ‘I can’t juggle this anymore, something has to go and it can’t be my caring role so it’ll be my job,’” Ms Hewison said.

She said many carers had told the service they’d had to either battle through under stress, reduce their hours, take time off sick or stop working altogether.

“There is a bigger impact because if you reduce your hours or leave work, you’re not paying into a pension,” she said.

“So later on there will be an impact financially.

“Businesses lose out too because they have this massive valuable workforce that have left because they didn’t feel they could do the two things.”

For employees, the pressure of being a working carer can creep up on people slowly over time.

“It’s one of those things that is nearly low level, because you just keep doing it [carrying on],” Ms Hewison said.

“There’s not really a time where you say, ‘this is too much’.

“You don’t have a social life anymore, you’re going to bed with lots of stress so you’re going to the doctors more and often it can be quite isolating.

“You’re going to go into work tired, you may take the day off, it’s going to impact on your workmates.

“For many people, if they haven’t got an understanding manager, nevermind employer, it’s kind of a bit tough then for them to know what to do next.”

But Carers Leeds is now hoping to use its Working Carers Service and forum as a springboard to get employers to create a carer-friendly culture across the city.

“We’ve got a real child-friendly city now where it is okay to get time off to look after children,” Ms Hewison said. “What my ambition is that we become a carer-friendly city, where employers are carer-friendly.

“Where we first of all acknowledge and identify, and we recognise and support, the working carers that we do have in Leeds.

“With a business head on, it will save you money in the long run. It makes sense to actually support those working carers.”

Such has been the success of the service’s early stages, Carers Leeds now has a qualified working carer support worker, who liaises directly with businesses offering one-to-one support to carers in the workplace, thanks to a partnership with Leeds City Council.

The support workers are able to visit businesses – rather than asking carers to come to them – and offers one-to-one support and sessions for groups.