According to Carers UK, 6.5 million people in the UK currently care for someone who is elderly, ill or disabled. For those that make up this 6.5 million, life can increasingly resemble an emotionally pressured juggling act; with more and more balls constantly being added.
Not only do you have to deal with personal and professional dilemmas, but you also have to manage the pressures of supporting a dependent both emotionally and financially. This is a heavy load for many, and it can sometimes be overwhelming and can even lead to isolation at times, due to having so little time for yourself.
If you’re currently caring for someone alongside your work, there are some legal rights in the UK you should be aware of. Below, the wellbeing charity, CABA outline some of the rights and initiatives that might make your life as a carer a little easier, as well as some hints and tips on how to look after your own wellbeing.
Request flexible working
If you're juggling the demands of work and being a carer, you have the right to ask your employer for flexible working. The only condition to qualify is that you must have worked for your current company for at least 26 weeks continuously.
In order to make this request, you must write to your employer, explaining that this is a statutory request for flexible working and detail the hours you’d like to do. It could be that you want to work flexible hours, part-time or work from home more often. You may also want to include an explanation of how the business might be affected if you changed your working hours, including your views on how this could be managed effectively.
You’re not obliged to say why you want to work flexible hours, nor give any details of your personal circumstances. But the more information you can give, the stronger your case may be.
Don't stand for discrimination
The Equality Act of 2010 includes protection for carers against direct discrimination, which means your employer must not treat you any differently to your colleagues.
If you suspect that you're being discriminated against in the workplace because you’re a carer, find out what you can do about it by visiting your local Citizens' Advice Bureau, or contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission's Equality Advisory Support Service on 0808 800 0082.
Consider all your options
Meanwhile, if you're thinking about giving up your job because of your caring responsibilities, find out if you can receive extra help before you hand in your notice. For instance, if you're facing a period of intense caring demands and you have already used up your annual holiday entitlement, your employer may agree to you taking unpaid leave.
Some workers may also be able to negotiate a career break, which means your job will still be there if your situation changes in the future. It’ worth chatting these options through with your employer first. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing this with your direct manager, you should contact your HR department who you can talk to in confidence.
Be clear about benefits
If there is no alternative to giving up your job, make sure you know in advance what benefits you're entitled to as a full-time, unpaid carer, so you can budget accordingly.
If you're caring for someone for at least 35 hours per week, you may be able to claim Carer's Allowance if the person you're caring for is also receiving certain benefits, such as Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. Find out more about Carer's support by visiting Caba Care.
Find time for yourself
Whilst it’s important to understand what additional benefits you’re entitled to, it’s just as important to consider your personal wellbeing too. This is not only important so you can provide the best possible care for your loved ones, but so you can enjoy life too. Taking regular time out for yourself, without apologising, will not only help to manage the effects of being a carer, but it will help to build your resilience too.
It can be hard to find time, but by establishing a routine you can start to build new healthy habits, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, without questioning whether you should be doing something else. For example, try to enjoy a few pages of your book before bed, or even take a quick walk on your lunch break. Whatever you choose to do, the point is to build these habits into your day or week, so you eventually do it without even thinking.
Why not try turning everyday chores into ‘me time’. For example, when washing up, watch an episode of your favourite series, or listen to a podcast when on your daily commute. Find a way to combine your to-do list with the things that you could miss out on.
Remember, when we’re feeling at our best, both physically and emotionally, it’s much easier to handle stress and pressure, both at work and at home. So, don’t forget to take care of yourself.