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WOMAN'S HOUR
TX: 23.01.08
Time off to Care


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TX: 23.01.08 - Time Off Work To Care

PRESENTER: JENNI MURRAY


MURRAY
Now the term sandwich generation was invented some years ago to define those of us who had elderly parents who needed to be looked after, children who were still our responsibility and most probably a job. And a number of us have been aware for some time that this changing demographic would force a new social revolution. The spinster daughter who in the past would be expected to take care of her ageing parents no longer exists, she's now going out to work. So how do we resolve this question when care of the elderly is unpredictable, arduous, families often live far apart and professional help is frequently unreliable? Well Carey Oppenheim is one of the directors of the Institute for Public Policy Research; Patricia Peter is from the Institute of Directors and Harriet Harmon is deputy leader of the Labour Party and minister for women and equality.

Harriet, you acknowledged this change in demographic last year, what did you see as its potential impact?

HARMAN
Well I think there's three really big changes as you've indicated. Firstly, people are living much longer so people can perhaps expect to have even a decade or more of frailty in old age but still living independently. Women are going out to work more, so just as the stay at home mother has become the working mother and that's precipitated an awful lot of changes that have become necessary to enable a woman to go out to work and care for the children, the stay at home daughter who might have been looking after the older parents is now going out to work, so that's the second point. And the third point is, as you said, is families aren't necessarily living so close to each other. And I think what's important for us in government to do is to back up families to make their own choices about how they combine looking after older relatives, giving the support they want and also still keeping the job they need for income. So I don't think it's about a government blueprint, it's about us listening to what families are saying about the choices they want and then backing them up so they can make those choices.

MURRAY
In place so far is the right to ask for flexible working if you're a carer, as you can if you have children, how do you see that as helpful?

HARMAN
Well I think most people don't know that actually since April 2007 there's been a right that if you've got an older relative you don't have to be a carer, as such, you just have to be a daughter of an elderly mother or elderly father or a son of an older father or mother, you can say to your employer I'd like some flexibility, say I'd like to start work later on a Monday morning because I'd like to take my mum to the day centre on Monday mornings so I can just see her right starting the week. That sort of flexibility, which people are used to thinking about asking for in relation to their children, there is a right to request that flexibility. If you've got any sort of care or support responsibilities for older relatives people don't know about that, so that's the first thing, we want people to know about that and exercise their rights so they can flex their work to suit their caring for older relatives.

MURRAY
Carey, how useful is that?

OPPENHEIM
It's certainly a very good step in the right direction but there's some real limitations with the right. First of all, it's a right that you can only request once a year and it's a permanent change in your contract for that year. And as we know the reality of caring for an elderly or a sick person is, is the care fluctuates. So I think it has real limitations in that sense. The other issue is that the person has got to be living in your own home and again as we know quite often the person you're looking after is often at a distance.

MURRAY
We have two people either side of you challenging this, let's just clear it up. Patricia, does it have to be someone who's living in your own home?

PETER
No it is either a relative within certain definitions anywhere or somebody who is not a relative living in your home, that's as I understand it, Harriet can probably ...

HARMAN
That's right, yeah you don't have to have your relative living with you to be able to request flexibility to support that relative.

PETER
But also it's the people who are not your relative who live with you doesn't it as well, if you have somebody who is not a relative but lives in your home.

HARMAN
But I mean this just illustrates the point that people don't realise what the extent of the right is and we've got a job to do to explain that right is there for people if they've got any sort of older relative they want to care or support, whether they live with them or don't.

MURRAY
Back to [indistinct word] Carey.

PETER
And that's something we would do to our members, which certainly is explain what the extent, the scope, is and how it applies to them.

MURRAY
Carey.

OPPENHEIM
But you still have to change - you can only have that change once in a year, it still is not very well known and I would argue actually that we need to think about flexible working for everybody. At the moment you have to fit into quite a specific category - either you've got to have children under a certain age or you've got to be looking after somebody with care needs. And the reality is we need to change the norm where care - the issue is where caring is just seen as an exception rather than actually part of everyday life, the reality is nearly every one of us will be caring for somebody at some point in our lives.

MURRAY
What kind of pressure, Patricia, does that put on employers?

PETER
I think it puts huge pressure on employers. Some employers are large enough to actually have a workforce that can sort of cope and accept. I think the problem is that if you have - very often flexible working is actually achieved informally and it isn't done through a right to request with the formal changes. And I think a lot of employers, more and more employers, do offer a sort of flexible, flexible working pattern partly because it's in the interests of the employer, it is in the interest of the employer. The problem if you give everybody the right to request, a legal right to request, is those people will inevitably come forward in sequence and there will always be - an employer has a need for employees to be there and working and for his obligations to be fulfilled. The employment contract is a two-way - a two-way thing, the employee receives money in return for giving of time and services and I think if you go too far the other way you're running the danger - and some employers, a lot of employers, thinking well actually almost we are a social service in providing - just providing for people's needs.

MURRAY
There are clearly limits here, Harriet, I mean we're talking about an elderly parent or relative or other relative only needing a small amount of your time so that you can still work flexibly. What responsibility does the government have to be the social service that the employers are not prepared to be when it comes to parents who need much greater care than that?

HARMAN
Well I think there is a challenge for employers, as Patricia said, but just as employers had to face the challenge of the fact that if they were employing women they had to recognise that quite often they'd have childcare responsibilities and by and large they've recognised that and it will be a challenge for employers increasingly to recognise that the man or woman they employ is somebody's son or daughter and they've got caring responsibilities.

MURRAY
So are you saying there should be something like maternity leave, paternity leave, that if you have an older parent you should have a right to leave to look after them when they're really sick?

HARMAN
We're saying that this is a big issue on the horizon, we've done a number of things but we need to do more. But the other thing is it's not just about management in workplaces giving flexibility, it's also about the services being there to support the older person living on their own. Just as with parents bringing up children we said it's about maternity pay and leave and it's flexible work and it's after school clubs, and good childcare. It's the same package that we need to be thinking about - good services that visit people in their own home, good day centres or lunch clubs, good transport for older people, as well as the flexibility for relatives. This is only going in one direction which is it's going to become a bigger and bigger issue, we've got to look ahead, discuss with employers, think about the local services and listen to what families say who say we want to give care and support but we don't want to give up our job and we don't want mum or dad having to be pushed into sheltered housing if that's not what they want.

MURRAY
How useful Carey is this comparison with childcare?

OPPENHEIM
I think it is useful in the sense that - that actually - the issue of balancing work and home is similar but actually the way, of course, childcare is perceived and the arrival of a child, which is sort of celebrated and has high status, and caring for an elderly or sick person is often seen as a low status, has really got to be changed and in a sense I think probably we'd all agree with that. Just in terms of thinking about you do absolutely need the right package of care in order to be able to be sure that when you leave your sick or elderly person that they're properly looked after. But we'd also like to see a statutory right to paid leave for carers of five days, at the moment the big companies, the really good companies, are in fact often doing something like that. But there isn't any statutory right to have emergency leave paid at the moment. And that would offer the kind of flexibility that ...

MURRAY
So if your mum falls over and breaks her hip you can get five days paid off.

OPPENHEIM
Exactly, yes or you can take one day, because there's an emergency appointment, or you - and then another two days at another point. So I think the flexibility is key but it's also about keeping those people in work when they want to be in work.

MURRAY
Okay, again I wonder what impact this will have on the way employers view women, will they want middle aged women if their parents are still alive?

PETER
I think that has to be borne in mind and we - you know it is - you cannot discriminate. But if you're faced with two equal candidates for a job ...

MURRAY
Well you're not going to want a young one who's of childbearing age and you're probably not going to want one who may have elderly parents to look after.

PETER
You are looking at a balance. But I'd like to go back to the point - I think it is - the big point for employers very often in the vast majority of cases - and I think when we last surveyed and we're just in the middle of a survey at the moment of our members - about 84% offered sort of flexible working arrangements. So it's a very high percentage. It's really having the degree - a degree, some certainty and knowledge of when people are going to be working. And I agree there are emergencies but the one thing you do not want is somebody who is constantly changing because cost wise what will happen is people will take on either another member of staff to cover those dates or temporary workers - and we've got the EU Temporary Workers Directive hovering in the background - and people they take on will themselves acquire employment rights and if somebody then says actually I want to change my pattern again you then, as an employer, are sort of caught between a bit of a rock and a hard place because you've now got ..

MURRAY
And that's very difficult, Harriet, when you've got an elderly parent who's getting sicker and sicker.

HARMON
It is and the only certainty about this, as the Prime Minister said, is that there is uncertainty, is that you can't predict when an older person is going to get a particularly nasty bout of flu, you can't predict when they're going to have a fall and need a visit - visits to hospital and then extra help when they come out of hospital. It is a challenge but because of the growing number of elderly people and because as a society we want to ensure that we back up families are who doing what is so valuable and we all value enormously which is caring for older or disabled relatives.

MURRAY
Well it's valuable to 67 billion a year to the government, it is an absolute nightmare trying to find somebody to come and care for an older parent in the home. How much money can you actually afford to put into what you described as good back up professional care?

HARMON
Well I think it's got to grow but just as it used to be parents absolutely tearing their hair out trying to find a nursery place that we've made some progress on that with investing in the services for children, we've got to make much more progress investing in services for older people and backing up families who are caring. And that's why the Prime Minister has set up this review which is going to be happening in the spring. But what we've got to do when we pronounce on our review in the spring is not saying right that's it, we've done it, this is our plan, because this is a moving situation and we've got to be listening all the time to the sort of ways people want to be in their family and backing them up, making sure that the challenge that there is for employers we help employers with and we don't just load it all on to employers and say well you've got to cope, it's very difficult. And we also recognise the role that public services has got to play as well. But at the end of the day this is a huge social revolution and we've got to make sure that people feel comfortable in their work and that their discharging the responsibilities that they want to undertake in relation to their older relatives.

MURRAY
Carey, what the one vital thing that you think the government should do right now?

OPPENHEIM
I think that it should look at five paid days leave for emergency care. I also think it needs to bring part time workers into the tax credit system, carers, because actually that would give them more flexibility about combining work and care.

MURRAY
Well Carey Oppenheim, Patricia Peter, Harriet Harmon thank you all very much for being with us. Next week is the final week of the Care in the UK season and so on Thursday January 31st we'll be joining forces with You and Yours for a special programme where we'll be putting your questions to a panel of experts, including the minister for social care Ivan Lewis, it's happening live here in Broadcasting House in London during the You and Yours slot from midday.




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