A blog entry by Camille Allard
The current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which began in December 2019, presents a significant challenge for governments and employers. This equally presents a challenge for informal carers and the people they care for on a daily basis; these people may be in the most vulnerable position to the coronavirus’ threat. Carers are therefore essential in helping to contain the virus spread, by taking care of themselves and the persons they care for, thereby alleviating pressure on an already very stretched health and social care workforce.
A blog by the TUC points out that, in the UK, the coronavirus situation has exposed the inequality of sick pay in the UK. Almost 2 million working people don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. This includes 1 in 10 women, and almost 300,000 people on zero-hour contracts. Workers who have to self-isolate are thus in danger of losing pay because of their lack of secure working conditions.
Moreover, workers’ access to care leave, which can support carers in arranging support for the person they care for and in dealing with care-related matters, is still left to employer discretion. Carers UK has been campaigning strongly on this issue for several years, and points out that “with 89% of the public supporting a right to a short period of time off work to care, it is time for policy makers to make statutory care leave a priority.”
A positive development, in light of this campaign, is that the UK Government has very recently decided to consult on introducing new legislation on carer’s leave.
This would potentially lead to implementation of a right to one week’s unpaid leave per year to provide care for a family member or other dependant who has a longer term, or otherwise significant, care need. At this point, the Government is not proposing to introduce paid care leave. This seems a pity. Forgoing a week’s pay would be a real obstacle for many working carers, many of whom already struggle to cope financially. However, introducing statutory care leave, even unpaid, would be positive, as it would legitimise and recognise carers’ struggles in the workplace. It would also provide them with additional time off, meaning fewer carers would feel they have to use their annual leave to provide care.
At a time of global pandemic, the lack of a statutory right to care leave is acutely experienced. It increases inequalities in care between those who are able to take time off from work without being penalised financially, and those who cannot, and who will therefore struggle to provide care and attention to a vulnerable relative.
Adequate policy support, paid sick leave for all, and a statutory right to care leave could support carers, save lives and help contain the virus.