Caring for an elderly relative? Then use your right to demand flexitime at work

By JAMES CHAPMAN

Last updated at 23:20 23 January 2008


Millions of people who look after elderly relatives are to be encouraged to work part-time.

Ministers are planning a major information campaign to urge those with elderly dependents to use new rights to request flexible working from existing or potential employers.

They can ask to work fewer days a week or adopt flexitime.

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman said reforms were needed to help the "sandwich generation" - those caught between the demands of work, raising children and caring for ageing relatives.

"You don't have to be a carer as such," she said. "You just have to be a daughter or son with an elderly mother or father and you can say to your employer, 'I would like some flexibility'."

While employers can decline the requests, employees can appeal internally against a refusal, and then go to an employment tribunal.

Miss Harman addded: "It might be starting work late on a Monday morning to take your mother to a day centre or to visit your father to make sure he's set up for the week.

"There is a new right to request that sort of flexibility that people don't know about.

"People are living much longer, so people can perhaps expect to have even a decade or more of frailty in old age but still want to lead independent lives.

"Women are going out to work more. Just as the stay-at-home mother has become the working mother, the stay-at-home daughter who may have been looking after an elderly parent is now going out to work.

"Thirdly, families aren't living as close to each other as they used to.

"This is a huge social revolution - helping people to feel comfortable working while also undertaking the responsibilities that they have to care for elderly relatives."

Other proposals being considered as part of a review of carers' rights ordered by Gordon Brown include "salaries" for those looking after elderly or sick relatives full-time, with some potentially eligible for tens of thousands of pounds a year.

Ministers say schemes pay adult carers - rather than giving the money to care homes or sheltered housing providers - have proved successful in America and Scandinavia.

Labour's favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, is drawing up detailed plans for carers to get a new entitlement to five days emergency paid leave, for instance if an elderly relative has had a fall or a spell in hospital.

Carey Oppenheim, director of the IPPR, said: "That would offer real flexibility.

"The reality is nearly every one of us will be caring for somebody at some point in our everyday lives."

But business leaders warned of the disruption that could be caused by huge extensions in flexible working rights.

Patricia Peter, of the Institute of Directors, said: "It puts huge pressure on employers. Some are large enough to have a workforce that can cope.

"More and more employers do offer a flexible working pattern. The problem is if you give everybody the right to request - a legal right - people will inevitably come forward in sequence.

"It's really about having a degree of certainty and knowledge of when people are going to be working. An employer has a need for employees to be there."

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