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TX: 13.06.03 - CARERS CALL FOR FLEXIBLE WORKING RIGHTS


PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON


ROBINSON
New flexible working rights offer the hope of a better balance between work and home life, even if they've done nothing to help a certain Cabinet minister with his family home in the North East. They've also done little for a much larger and more important group in society - carers, whose voluntary efforts, according to some estimates, save the Treasury £57 billion a year. At the moment parents get working tax credits but carers who work don't. Parents have the legal right to flexible hours in the workplace but carers don't. Yet no one needs flexible work conditions more than carers. Carolyn ATKINSON begins her report speaking to Madeleine STARR of Carers UK.

STARR
Carers can be seriously financially disadvantaged by their caring roles. They very often have to reduce the hours they work, they very often have to work part-time in order to juggle work and care. They may have to find lower paid jobs which they can fit in more flexibly. We don't expect parenthood to disadvantage parents, I don't think that we can expect the same to happen for carers.

ACTUALITY
Good morning.

Can you give me your hand please.

It's a bit awkward, very stiff.

ATKINSON
Thirty seven year old Charles McGregor has MS and is cared for by his wife. Three in five of us will have a caring responsibility like this sometime in our lives and recent research shows the average age of carers as creeping down with more and more people in their thirties and forties looking after disabled or ill relatives and friends at home.

ACTUALITY
Now you're freezing, no good, no good. Mild please.

ATKINSON
Earlier this week the Children's Society revealed more than 50,000 youngsters, as young as five, are spending up to 50 hours a week caring. Ursula SINCLAIR was just 10 when she started looking after her mother who developed Parkinson's Disease. For the next 17 years she missed out on school, on friends, on a social life and on getting a job.

SINCLAIR
She was so hard to deal with and she was very hard to deal with but I kept on going on and caring for her because I never wanted to let her down. She had this fear of going into a nursing home and I said - no, you're not going into a nursing home I'm going to care till the day you die. And then she did, she died in my arms literally.

ATKINSON
For carers who do manage to work their colleagues might not understand.

STARR
This is very difficult stuff to bring into the workplace and employees may find it very hard to share with their employers their complex caring responsibilities - maybe caring for someone with a mental health problem, you don't celebrate the incontinence of your mum with Alzheimer's in the same way that you might talk about the needs of your baby.

ATKINSON
The latest census shows that the pressure is really on carers. The three million who do manage to work, 400,000 of them are then going home and putting in at least another 20 hours of care a week. And 200,000 are facing 50 hours or more. And those who don't work are missing out on thousands of pounds in benefits or discounts available for some disabled people - that's either because of red tape or a lack of information. When the Princess Royal Trust for Carers took 300 carers on a weekend break its corporate supporter Norwich Union gave them a financial makeover and discovered that group alone were missing out on almost half a million pounds in unclaimed benefits.

STARR
Also our carer centres on average find a quarter of a million pounds of unclaimed benefits every year and we have a 115 carer centres - that's a lot of money. Now the people who need that money are actually very often very, very poor, this does them no good at all in terms of their health and it goes on forever, it normally means they have no pension, so they could be in to long-term poverty for a long time.

ATKINSON
And poverty is also a problem for former carers. What happens to carers once their caring role is over?

IRONS
He died on the Tuesday and by the Thursday the benefit office had stopped our benefits, so we had no money - my daughter and I had no money whatsoever.

ATKINSON
Carol IRONS experienced one of the worst periods of her life in the days after her husband died. After two decades of caring she was still only in her fifties but she had no job or skills. She feels strongly that former carers need support and practical help, not least with getting a paid job. So she's about to launch a project in Newcastle aimed at caring for former carers.

IRONS
It will be open to everyone on a long-term basis where you can dip in and out to get perhaps counselling, confidence building, job seeking - anything that you need that isn't there now we want to create a seamless system where someone will signpost you, help you along the way to regain your life and your confidence.

ATKINSON
Madeleine STARR from Carers UK says so many people just don't realise what carers do because it's not glamorous and it's not sexy.

STARR
Legally carers are only entitled to emergency leave, if a caring arrangement breaks down, and that's actually written into the legislation. But that's it. When we consider the amount of regulation and legislation that exists to support parents really carers aren't on the map.

SINCLAIR
You've got to have a lot of courage to carry on being caring. I'm proud of myself.

ACTUALITY
And my hair and my ears, it's really clean now thank you. And you're rinsing it out.

ATKINSON
In terms of your wife looking after you could you manage without her?

MCGREGOR
Oh not really, it makes life easier. This is a really obnoxious disease, I couldn't manage without my dear wife.

ROBINSON
That was Carolyn ATKINSON reporting. And if you would like to tell us about your experiences as a carer or how you think the law might be amended then do give us a call: 0800 044 044.





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