The silent battle with eldercare
In the last 12 months, my mum has struggled under the growing burden of caring for two elderly parents while trying to hold down a part-time job.
She’s had support from us all, but still carries a sense of responsibility and guilt; the expectation being that children will ultimately look after their ageing parents.
Unfortunately, she is not alone in this struggle. One third of surveyed people confirmed that they have provided care for a family friend or a loved one. Ultimately, the question we need to answer is: “how can we improve the situation for carers within the workplace?”
My mum is one of millions of ‘undercover carers’ who informally look after sick or elderly family and friends, saving an estimated £40bn each year to the taxpayer, but at what cost to the individual? Research shows that only 14% of people in this situation would even describe themselves as a “carer”, with many believing this is just their responsibility.
Research from SimplyHealth shows there are three profiles of “working carers” aged over 50:
1. Pre-Active Carers
- Have older loved ones but not yet caring responsibilities, nor do they understand what their caring requirements could be in the future, or how to prepare for them.
2. Active Carers
- Actively looking after an older loved one through regular tasks, such as housework or preparing meals, and starting to feel the burden upon them. Do not recognise themselves as ‘carers’.
3. Committed Carers
- Intensely committed, caring and understand how much their loved one(s) depends on them. The stress of caring and the effort involved eventually forces them to leave work.
For Active and Committed Carers, these additional responsibilities impact their daily working lives in multiple ways:
- Practically; researching nursing homes during work etc.
- Emotionally; feeling you’re fighting battles on your own.
- Dealing with stigma; tension with colleagues after taking your fourth personal call that day.
Considerations for your current workforce
This problem isn’t going to go away. In fact, it’s getting worse as the population ages. According to the ONS, the population in 2016 was the largest it has ever been at 65.6 million and projected to reach 74 million by 2039. While it is growing, improvements in healthcare and lifestyles mean the population is getting older as people live longer. In 2016, 18% of people were aged 65+ and 2.4% were aged 85+.
People are also working longer than ever before, and with the state pension age moving from 65 to 68 between 2018 and 2046, it’s likely that more people are going to have to look after elderly parents and loved ones while they’re still working. This puts more of a burden on the carer’s personal finances as well as their retirement plans. Do I have enough money to look after myself and an elderly parent when I retire? If the carer is already retired then it’s much more challenging to factor in this additional cost. As with all elements of Financial Wellbeing, the employer will ultimately shoulder some of this responsibility.
SimplyHealth highlighted that 76% of carers were distracted from daily tasks, and 60% felt their employment status had been hurt due to their caring responsibilities. By removing the stigma around eldercare, we can stop talented people from unnecessarily leaving the workforce, thereby reducing absenteeism and turnover, ensuring that carers feel fully supported in their roles.
Changing attitudes to eldercare
Improving the employee experience for carers needs to be permanent. We’ve seen significant shifts for financial education and mental health in the workplace, and we need to apply the same level of acceptance and support to eldercare. Research from My Family Care and Hydrogen showed that less than 10% of employers currently offer any emergency adult and eldercare support, so, how can we improve this?
For childcare, employers are often very supportive of parents, be it flexible working patterns to cover school runs, working from home if a child is sick, or leaving the workplace early if there is a school incident.
We can absolutely view eldercare in a similar way. There doesn’t need to be a stigma here and, with the population continuing to age, this is going to affect as many (if not more) people as those with childcare responsibilities. This isn’t as simple as introducing one product or service to fix the problem. There must be a fundamental change in attitude, with eldercare provision becoming an important part of a wider Health and Wellbeing strategy.
How can we better support carers?
Technology can play an important role; ‘In the home’ innovations include timed tablet dispensers, cookers which automatically switch off if on for too long and fridges that send an alert if the door is left open. Using technology, we can educate employees via a webinar that these products exist. Wearable fitness trackers can highlight if a parent is moving or not and employees can save National Insurance contributions on the cost of devices through the Technology benefit offered by Benefex.
Some Dental Insurance providers have added a new level of cover so that employees can add their parents onto their policy. This level of change may seem small but for a carer it’s one less thing to worry about.
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) are generally viewed as an employment hygiene factor, and, unless they’ve desperately needed to use the service, employees may not even know that you have one in place, nor what the benefits are. Most EAP providers offer eldercare support, be that online resources for targeted legal, financial and care services, or just having someone else to talk to. EAP forms a key part of the Benefex ‘Health and Wellbeing’ offering and we can work with you to include this as part of your employee proposition.
Crucially, at a time when many carers are focused on the wellbeing of their family member, making this information easily accessible is critical. This could be the benefits you provide or the policies and resources available. There is an opportunity to guide an employee through this discovery, and it is important to think about that employee journey, ensuring we don’t just create a maze of content.
Practical steps you can take for your own tomorrow
Now, we can consider your own healthcare, should the need ever arise in later life. Putting to one side the methods for generating the savings that fund your retirement, there are benefits which can help. If your health deteriorates, Power of Attorney can be particularly challenging to acquire. Many Will Writing providers include this and, while this is can be incredibly important for end-of-life care, on a more day-to-day basis it can remove a financial burden for your carer, quite possibly your own child, of using their own money to undertake maintenance of the house for elderly facilities or doing the weekly food shop. This helps to relieve the strain on the carer’s finances and their mental health and wellbeing. Benefex work with multiple Will Writing providers and can support you in introducing this benefit to your workforce, helping them plan for their own retirement.
We need to work to better understand the scale of the issue of eldercare, to ensure that there are support mechanisms in place so that employees with care responsibilities feel understood, trusted and valued. Providers will continue to explore ways to support the resolution of this problem and those ideas will gradually become more established. Regardless of the innovation in this space, carers shouldn’t feel that they need to choose between their job and their elderly loved ones. It’s down to employers to remove the stigma around eldercare and to care for the carers.
David is a Senior Consultant in our Client Success team.