Who cares for UK's 6 million employed carers?
According to research from Unum UK, 21% of workers say they’re in the ‘sandwich generation’,1 caring for both young children and ageing relatives.
When you map that onto the UK’s population of 28 million or so full- and part-time employees,2 it means almost 6 million people juggle work with dual caring responsibilities.
That’s before considering many carers may fall outside the sandwich generation, caring for just young children or just ageing relatives, or are self-employed. The true number of working carers is therefore likely even higher.
Unpaid carers are worth £193 billion a year.3 They play such an important and valuable role — and not only for the family, friends and neighbours they help live longer in the community. Their efforts support the economy, the NHS and our social care system.
But who cares for carers?
According to Unum’s research, the strain of being in the sandwich generation takes a toll on carers’ mental, financial and even physical health. Among sandwich generation workers:
Meanwhile, 13% reported feeling forced to leave an unsupportive employer who didn’t understand their caring role.
Indeed, around 600 people in the UK give up work each day to care for an older or disabled relative.4 This means forgoing an income and relying on benefits such as Carer’s Allowance — the lowest benefit of its kind.
To get Carer’s Allowance in 2022/23, you cannot earn more than £132 per week. That means the more than 900,000 working-age people receiving Carer’s Allowance5 have a de facto cap on their take-home, earned income of less than £7,000 each year if they want to keep their benefit.
For those still trying to juggle work and caring, 20% of sandwich generation workers admit they’re less productive at work due to their caring responsibilities.
This might be because 24% of sandwich generation workers say caring caused them to take time off work, while caring responsibilities pushed a further 16% to take time off sick.
This fits with a report by Public Health England that found carers are at a higher risk of illnesses, in particular musculoskeletal conditions, cardiovascular disease and poor sleep.6
Carers who have to give up work not only face financial difficulties. Giving up work can also be detrimental to their mental health, self-worth and self-esteem.
Finding it difficult to juggle caring with work can also reduce productivity and increase absence rates, making not understanding caring responsibilities bad for both the employee and the business.
Yet despite this, 31% of sandwich generation workers say their employer poorly understands their caring responsibilities. Furthermore, fewer than a third of sandwich generation staff receive help from their employer with their caring responsibilities in the form of remote working when required, emergency leave to care for ill dependents or an employee assistance programme (EAP).
And more than 1 in 5 sandwich generation employees (21%) said that their employer offered no support at all.
Supporting employees who are caregivers
Providing the right support can help businesses retain valuable talent, expertise and experience. However, this relies on knowing who in your business is a carer and making efforts to understand what this means for them.
Does your business have a culture of openness that encourages employees to ask for help if they need it? For some companies, it may work to ask employees outright if they have caring responsibilities and how you can support them.
If you feel employees would be more comfortable sharing anonymously, consider an anonymous survey asking if they are carers and how you can support them.
As a starter, some of the other actions employees wanted to see to improve support for the sandwich generation were:
Employees covered by a Unum Group Risk policy get access to various support services that can be useful for carers.
Our EAP, powered by LifeWorks,7 offers emotional and practical support — including a section dedicated to carers. These resources can help employees balance the twin responsibilities of caring and work. There’s also a 24/7 confidential helpline offering employees support with issues such as eldercare.
Employees also get access to resources aimed at supporting their mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Before the middle of the century, the number of people in the UK aged 85 or older will almost double compared with 2020, rising from 1.7 million to 3.1 million.8 Meanwhile, the mean age of an individual giving birth is now 30.7 (up from 28.5 in 2000). The mean age of the person listed as the father (a definition which, since 2009, incorporates the second parent for same-sex couples regardless of their sex) is 33.7, up from 31.7 in 2000.9
With a rising number of older people and parents having children later in life, it’s likely the sandwich generation will grow in the future. It will therefore be increasingly important for employers to address issues surrounding employees with dual caring responsibilities and ensure they have everything they need to thrive.
1 Research conducted by Opinium between 4-8 March 2022 amongst a nationally representative sample of 2,000 UK adults
2 Full-time, part-time and temporary workers (seasonally adjusted), Office for National Statistics (June 2022)
3 Making caring visible, valued and supported: Carers Week 2022 report, Carers Week (June 2022), p.3
4 Facts and figures, Carers UK
5 Informal carers, House of Commons (June 2022), p.23
6 Caring as a social determinant of health, Public Health England (March 2021), p.5
7 The Employee Assistance Programme is provided by LifeWorks. Access to the service is facilitated by Unum at no cost to the Unum customer. Unum is not the provider of the service but can withdraw or change the service at any time. The service is entirely separate from any insurance policy provided by Unum and is subject to the terms and conditions of the relevant third-party specialists. There is no additional cost or increase in premium as a result of Unum making this benefit available.
8 National population projections: 2020-based interim, Office for National Statistics (January 2022)
9 Births by parents’ characteristics, Office for National Statistics (January 2022)