Carers & employment

3 million people across the UK combine work and care, with the number in Scotland currently estimated to be around 270,000.

The importance of employment

Having the opportunity to work is an important part of life, and one that most of us take for granted. In addition to providing financial stability, it is widely recognised that employment brings wider benefits in terms of a fulfilling career, positive mental health and social interaction.

For carers, work can often represent a lifeline, not only financially, but in providing a life outside of caring. Being able to access and sustain employment enables carers to subsequently be in a better position to provide care for their loved ones.

However, juggling work and caring responsibilities can be challenging and extremely stressful, with many carers unable to sustain their careers. This can lead to financial hardship and move carers and their families onto a dependence on benefits.

Without support and understanding at work, carers can suffer from high levels of stress and exhaustion. The effects of this can be damaging both in the workplace and at home.

Caring for a sick or disabled person is different from caring for children. It can happen overnight, without any or much warning; it can be hard to plan and cope with emotionally, and can involve a series of milestones which result in the need for varying intensities and levels of caring.


A number of pieces of legislation currently give carers some basic statutory rights at work. Whilst many employers go beyond this provision, there is however often very limited awareness, amongst both employers and employees of the minimum legal rights which apply to carers in employment.

The Work and Families Act 2006:  gives carers the right to request flexible working.  Since 2007, this legislation has applied to carers, and to parents of children under the age of 17, or 18 if the child is disabled. From the end of June 2014 this right was extended to all employees.

To be eligible, employees must have been employed for at least 26 weeks, and can apply for a change in their terms and conditions only once per year (or if circumstances suddenly alter). Employers can refuse this request, but only on the grounds of a good business case, for reasons specified in the legislation.  Employees have a further chance to appeal against this decision.

All employees also have the right to take time off for emergencies to respond to unexpected situations involving a dependant (someone they look after).  This is regardless of how long they have worked for their employer

Time off is unpaid, but at the discretion of the employer, can be, and often is, paid.  Employees should inform their employer/line manager as soon as possible following the emergency

A dependant includes a husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with the employee as part of their family. It can also include others who rely on the employee for help in an emergency

Leave might be taken in situations including: 

  • A disruption or breakdown in care arrangements (eg a nurse or care worker fails to arrive)
  • When a dependant becomes ill, has been assaulted or involved in an accident (this can include more than just a physical injury)
  • To make arrangements for the longer-term care of a dependant who is ill or injured (but not to provide long term care themselves)
  • The death of a dependant

Employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months (continuous service) are entitled to Parental Leave if they are responsible for a child under the age of 5, or under 18 if the child receives Disability Living Allowance. This provides :

  • 13 weeks (unpaid) parental leave per child to look after their child, or
  • 18 weeks (unpaid) parental leave per child to look after their disabled child.

Leave can be taken in blocks of 1 week up to a maximum of 4 weeks leave in a year (for each child); or in one day, or multiples of a day if the leave is to care for a disabled child. Again, employers may have developed entitlement within their organisation to extend beyond this minimum requirement.

For parents of a child in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, leave may be taken any time up to the child’s 18th birthday.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people against direct discrimination or harassment due to their caring responsibilities.  Because carers are ‘associated’ with someone who is protected by the law because of their age or disability, they are also thereby protected by the Equality Act. 

Employers cannot therefore discriminate against carers or subject them to harassment.  This would include:

  • not offering someone a job because of their caring responsibilities
  • not offering someone a promotion because of their caring responsibilities


State of Caring & Family Finances Inquiry 2014: undertaken by Carers UK to investigate the cost of caring.

As part of this inquiry, evidence sessions with carers were held across the UK, and a ‘State of Caring Survey’ gathered the views of over 3,900 carers. The inquiry also took account of data from the 2011 Census and public polling was commissioned by Carers UK to further look at the impact of caring on employment.

Evidence gathered from the inquiry illustrates how widespread the impact of caring is on employment:

  • Over 3 million people combine paid work with caring responsibilities
  • 170,112 people in Scotland had given up work to care at some point
  • One in ten of the adult population say that caring responsibilities had a negative impact on their work through tiredness and stress
  • The peak age for caring often coincides with the peak of an individual’s career – 1 in 5 people aged 50-64 have caring responsibilities
  • 1 in 3 (30%) had seen a drop of £20,000 a year in their household income as a result
  • Half of working age carers live in a household where no-one is in paid work

Prepared to Care: Exploring the impact of caring on people’s lives: produced by nine charities for Carers Week 2013.

This study highlights that the impact of caring on a person’s current and future employment prospects can be damaging; often leading to financial loss and wider emotional difficulties. Of 2,115 carers surveyed across the UK:

  • 45% had given up work because of caring responsibilities
  • 42% had reduced their working hours
  • 34% felt that caring had impacted negatively on their chance of promotion
  • 60% had reduced incomes
  • 63% were unprepared for the impact that caring had on their career

Caring & Isolation in the Workplace, March 2015

Employers for Carers and Carers UK have undertaken targeted research into the impact of caring as a cause of isolation in the workplace. A survey of 1,041 carers highlighted the following:

  • 7 in 10 working carers (71%) have felt lonely or isolated in the workplace as a result of their caring responsibilities
  • Over four out of ten (43%) working carers felt that colleagues and managers did not understand the impact of caring and 38% had not felt comfortable talking about their caring responsibilities at work
  • Many working carers are at breaking point; a staggering third (32%) were caring for 50 plus hours a week, comprising over half (53%) of the carers who felt lonely or isolated in the workplace most of the time
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of carers received no support from their employer
  • The top priority for workplace support was improved and consistent manager awareness of caring issues (37%) and more flexible/special leave arrangements (again 37%)
  • The top priority for support outside the workplace (identified by 50% of carers) was for more, better quality or more suitable support from care services followed by more or better quality support from GP and other health professionals (43%)
  • More than seven in ten carers (72%) said they would be less stressed if these issues were addressed and six in ten (60%) said that they would feel that someone understood their situation
  • Over half (56%) of the carers who had given up work to care highlighted the stress of juggling work and care and a third (34%) the lack of suitable care services


Further information

Visit the Carers Scotland website for further information on carers, key facts, and links to other resources: