November 24th is Carers Rights Day, an annual national awareness campaign organised by the charity Carers UK. As I mentioned last year, one day seems inadequate to highlight carers' vital role in society. As individuals and households weather the current economic storm, the essential work of unpaid carers is now more critical than ever.
Caring by numbers
The 2011 Census identified that 6.5 million people in the UK are providing unpaid care. Carers UK now estimates that unpaid carers have risen to 10.6 million. This means that 1 in 5 adults in the UK is currently providing care. Of these, it's estimated that one in seven carers are juggling work and caring responsibilities.
Caring through the crisis
Carers UK surveyed over 3,300 carers last year to understand the increased pressure they were facing due to rising costs. They found carers were dipping into their savings, using credit cards, and cutting back on essentials to keep the person they care for warm and healthy. As energy bills continue to rise and inflation hits a 40-year high of 11%, the pressure on carers will only become more significant.
Sadly, more than 6,000 people die each winter from fuel poverty, but the figure is likely to be "much higher this year", according to researchers from the UCL Institute of Health Equity, due to rising energy costs. That's why Carers UK is calling on the Government to urgently address the unprecedented financial hardship that unpaid carers are currently facing.
The Covid affect
As part of our Covid operations planning, we reached out to our colleagues to understand their needs in these uncharted times. It quickly became evident that many of our colleagues had caring responsibilities, which they juggled with their daily lives and work.
Covid restrictions meant that more people worked from home. This often impacted carers' ability to support frail, elderly, mentally or physically compromised family members. Working from home also exacerbated feelings of isolation and impacted carers' mental and physical health.
Levelling up wages
We're proud to be a Living Wage Employer. As the cost-of-living crisis deepens, we're invested in ensuring all colleagues are paid at least the real living wage by April 2023. The real Living Wage is higher than the minimum wage for under 23s and the National Living Wage for over 23s, both of which are set by the Government. It's independently calculated based on what people need to get by. We want our colleagues to feel supported and appreciated at work and in their everyday lives.
Covid and now remote and hybrid working means work and home life are interconnected. Many juggle working from home with family or caring responsibilities. The rising cost of living and increased energy prices means people are feeling the pinch. Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table or having the heating on. Paying a real Living Wage is the right thing to do for all our colleagues.
Supporting our colleagues who support others
We appreciate that balancing caring for loved ones with other home and work responsibilities can be challenging. That’s why we developed a comprehensive Carers Policy and wellbeing package to support our colleagues.
Our Carer Wellbeing Support Package comprises:
- A Carers Policy – to acknowledge, protect and support our carers
- A Carers Passport – removing the need for colleagues to repeatedly explain their situation and enabling managers to provide focused support
- Three days matched Carers Leave per annum – providing support when it's needed most
- We have trained Mental Health First Aiders to listen to and provide information and signposting for colleagues needing further support
- Access to our Assistance and Wellness Programme – includes a UNUM helpline for free confidential support 24/7
Our Financial Wellbeing Support plans include:
- An emergency fund is being put together for colleagues to apply to if they’re struggling to pay for their essential needs
- We're currently training Financial First Aiders to provide information and signposting on financial and debt support
- A commitment to ensuring all colleagues are paid at least the real Living Wage by April 1st of next year
Further support from Carers UK
We're so proud of our colleagues who balance work, care and other responsibilities. We want to thank them again for everything they do for their loved ones, for Target and society as a whole. We appreciate all carers and are in awe of your tireless efforts. Carers UK is doing so much vital work in this space and advocating on behalf of carers. To learn more about your rights as a carer and to access free help and advice, please visit Carers UK.