Do you care?

Today, the Telegraph published this article suggesting that women in their thousands will be forced to quit their jobs to look after ill or ageing relatives if the supply of care workers from the EEA falls post Brexit.  My first reaction was to reflect on the whole misogyny of the headline.  But on reflection, sadly, it is probably true.  Domestic labour and care work, falls, for the most part at least, onto women.  The reasons for this are many, complex and structural.  Women still often earn less than men, so in many families this will be the most economic decision.  Women are already more likely to be working part time as a result of having children so again, such care work will naturally fall to them.  And so on.

But it isn’t just women who face workplace penalties when providing care. Working Families recently published their research ‘Off Balance’, looking at the issues faced by the parents of disabled children.  A few of the findings from the research:

  • 47% of mothers of disabled children are in paid work, compared with 64% of other mothers. There’s a difference in fathers too, but only2%. It’s those pesky gender roles once again.
  • 45% of parents of disabled children describe themselves as working in a job at a skill level below the one they had before they had their child.
  • There is a significant lack of specialised, affordable childcare to allow parents to work, a situation that gets worse in school holidays.
  • 76% of parents had refrained from seeking a promotion, declined a promotion because of their caring responsibilities to their child.
  • Nearly 50% of parents desire a different or more flexible working pattern than the one they currently have.
  • Parents are fearful of the impact of their caring responsibilities on their careers. Real life examples of parents forced out of jobs as a result of their caring responsibilities. Others taking all of their annual leave for medical or other appointments.

It is clear that the parents of disabled children face significant challenges in finding and retaining work, and then progressing their careers. It’s also a fact that more and more people are providing care to relatives, of some degree or another – and this is only set to increase in the years to come.

The Government has committed to introducing Carer’s Leave, that will provide a period of adjustment leave for the parents of disabled children, along with a statutory right to time off to attend children’s medical appointments. I am supportive of this – to a point.  Because it’s not really new legislation that we need, it is new attitudes.

Unfortunately some managers don’t want ‘messy’ staff. And by that I mean people with real, actual lives outside of work.  They don’t want staff that might get sick or pregnant or adopt a child. They don’t want staff with disabilities requiring adjustments, however reasonable.  They don’t want staff who might have to care for an ageing relative or a sick child.  They don’t want staff with depression or anxiety.  For those managers, and every HR person I know will have experienced a few, this real life stuff equals an employment PITA.  We know these managers exist.  They are the ones that don’t want to hire women of childbearing age.  These are the managers who don’t want to hire people with disabilities.  Who resist adjustments or flexible working.

My approach, when faced with these managers, is to ask them to reflect on what they would want from an employer and a manager, if it was their situation, their real need. Sometimes this works.  Often it does not.

We remain locked into the default model of work. Same times, same days, some locations.  Presenteeism.  Where, all too often, individual needs aren’t given individual consideration.  In my experience, most carers don’t actually need all that much.  Some understanding and empathy. Some flexibility.  Some trust to get the job done in the way that works best for them.  Recognition of achievement and contribution instead of hours at the coal face.

Changes in legislation can help. They can provide a lever for those that need it, and a recourse to the law when things go badly wrong.  But it’s bigger than an amendment to the statute books.

It’s the culture we really need to work on.  And then we might really show that we care.

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