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Why employers need to care to avoid generational trade-offs

Helene is Head of Care at Elder, a qualified as a nurse who has worked in the care industry for over 30 years.

A new report out today shows up to 20% of us think we’ll have to sacrifice our careers to support someone we love. While only 6% of employers think it’s a problem.

Let me tell you a story about a decision that, if today’s report is remotely near the mark, you have a one in five chance of having to make.

Imagine, for a moment, you’re your 50s. You’ve spent years building your professional reputation, been careful on the positions you’ve accepted, the interviews you’ve attended. After many nights of staying late in the office. Many mornings of getting in early, preparing for that big presentation. The stress, the worry, the graft. After all this, you’ve finally reached the peak of your career.

Your children are getting older but they’re not grown up. You have to balance trips to sports clubs, and the odd school run with getting on. You still have to put dinner on the table. Even though it’s a joy, it still takes up a lot of your life. The struggle to balance professional and personal lives is tough.

"This is devastating for families, especially if you have to support kids too. An avoidable trade-off between generations. "

- Helene Cross, Head of Care at Elder

So far, so familiar. But then comes the twist. Your 85-year old Mum has a fall. She’s rushed to hospital. After scheduling in a few frantic visits, over a few fear-filled days, you’re told she’s ready to go home. However, the doctor advises you she should no longer be left alone. She needs care.

You worry. You think through the possibilities but you’ve already made the decision. You know it’s a zero-sum game of sacrifice. You may not have the skill or the experience, but Mum’s going to move in. So she does. For a few months, you just about manage. Then the demands get greater. The needs get more complex.

She wakes in the night. You’re tired at work in the morning. You can’t concentrate. You’re not really coping, but you’re determined that Mum doesn’t have to move to a care home. So you make the decision to cut your hours. As the months roll by, you can’t leave her alone so you leave work altogether.

This is devastating for families, especially if you have to support kids too. An avoidable trade-off between generations. And, from my personal experience as a mum, a carer and a professional, something that leaves you feeling alone. It’s a choice that we simply shouldn’t have to make.

Many organisations just don’t have it on their radar. It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected, that just 6% of employers in Aviva’s report see caring pressure as a significant issue. This is wrong. Clearly, your work should care. But equally, the care system should work.

These findings are just one among many that have recently identified a trend. The UK’s productivity problem is linked to our ageing population. Just last month, the Alzheimer’s Society found that dementia care failings cost businesses in England £3.2bn.

Companies do have a responsibility to adapt and absorb some of this cost. There’s they can do, such as paid care leave and flexible working. With the latter, we’ve seen huge shifts in recent years for parents, it’s time the same happened for carers.

But really, this is about more than just employers. Working with families every day arranging live-in care at Elder and over 30 years in the NHS has taught me that people leave their jobs to become family carers because of three main reasons.

Care and work facts:

  • There are over 5,400,000 carers in England who are looking after, or giving help to, a sick, disabled or elderly person.
  • The loss of their skills and experience will cost English businesses almost £2.6 billion in 2019.
  • Approximately 20% of people caring for someone with dementia are in some form of paid work.

Firstly, they assume arranging care means going to a care home. Parents are reluctant. Those arranging care feel guilty. If dementia is involved, as it often is, these are both heightened.

People simply aren’t aware alternatives, such as live-in care, exist. Local authorities, individual social workers and health care professionals should be given the information to give to families about these alternatives.

Secondly, even if a family is aware, they might just have no idea how they’re going to pay for it. Care is expensive. The funding system is seen as complex. With a diagnosis lottery where a millionaire could get their full costs covered, while a pensioner in poverty may not.

We need a long-term funding settlement that rises to the challenge of an ageing population. There are some policy initiatives we see popup time and time again – such as hypothecated taxes and private insurance systems.

But we also need people to be aware of what’s already there. We’ve created a funding calculator to help families get an idea of what they’re entitled to. An incredible 82% of people are eligible for more than they might expect.

Thirdly, people simply can’t find a suitable care provider. The residential care sector can’t respond to demand fast enough. It takes a long time and money to build a care home. But both are in increasingly short supply.

Clearly, we need to look at solutions beyond the traditional sector. Open the system up to more innovative forms of care in the home, and trial technological solutions that can help someone monitor their mum from their mobile.

Helene recently appeared on BBC News to discuss the report's findings.

The decision to sacrifice your life for the of a parent is a complex one. Filled with unfamiliar emotion and role reversal. But it’s a decision that can’t disappear overnight. It needs bigger thinking from everyone involved. It’s only going to get bigger.

By 2030, there will be over three million people over 85. If we don’t rise to the challenge, the human and economic cost is going to be massive. We cannot fail to make care work.

The state of care:

  • Over 2.6 million mid-life employees expect to quit their jobs to provide care to adult family members.
  • Millions of mid-life employees are opting to take on their relatives’ care duties themselves as a means of minimising care bills, but this decision is coming at the expense of their career.
  • In Japan, where a public long-term care insurance program was mandated in 2000. A similar system is in place in Germany.

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