As carers, many of us can find it difficult to hold on to our jobs without burning out. And for those of us returning to work after caring for so long, we might find that we're up against more barriers than we thought.
Of course, some of us continue working alongside caring as we simply cannot afford to lose our income. This can put us in a very stressful situation, and our guide on carers' rights at work can offer some help.
In the Mobilise Community of unpaid carers, we’ve heard stories of unsupportive workplaces, but also stories of fulfilment and improved confidence from being able to work.
So here’s our guide. Created with carers, we’re sharing a toolkit of ideas, which may help us find a way to make work “work” for us. Plus, some of the impacts that paid work may have on any benefits we receive.
What are my carers' rights at work?
The impact of working on carer benefits
Arh yes, the impact that paid work can have on our household income.
There is a threshold to what we can earn, before it impacts on any benefits we receive, such as Carer's Allowance or Universal Credit.
It’s important to understand the impact, as we may otherwise find ourselves financially worse off.
Carer’s Allowance and work
Carers tell us that the key here is “allowable expenses”
“I found it so frustrating that I wanted to work, but as soon as I tried to increase my hours, I was immediately worse off financially. Once I understood how to offset my pension and expenses, things got a little easier.”
Deductible expenses include:
50% of our pension contributions
Any equipment we need to buy ourselves for our job. Such specialist clothing
Travel costs that aren’t covered by our employer
Business costs if we’re self employed, e.g. a computer or mobile phone (if used solely for work)
If we work from home, we may also be able to claim a flat rate deduction of between £10 and £26 per month, against our utility bills.
If we work from home, then we may be eligible for tax relief.
If we have to pay a carer to look after our disabled person or child while we work, then we can treat a proportion of these as an expense. These are costs that are less than or equal to 50% of our earnings. It’s important to note that unfortunately the paid carer cannot be a spouse, partner, parent, child or sibling.
When we apply for Carer’s Allowance or let them know about a change in circumstances (for example, our new job), the form asks us for all information relating to the above deductible expenses.
This then goes to a ‘decision maker’ to approve. After we have received our decision, it’s our responsibility to update them if anything changes - such as working more hours or incurring more expenses.
So how do we know if working or working more is financially viable?
Many of us can’t afford to be worse off financially.
If we have a job earning up to the £139 per week threshold (after deductions), and we’re still claiming Carer’s Allowance at £76.75, that brings us a weekly total of £201.70.
If we’re looking to get a new job or work more hours, then (to ensure we’re not worse off financially), our new work situation would need to bring in equal to or more than £215.76 (£132 + £76.76) per week.
It’s helpful to notice if an increase in our working hours brings an increase in our deductible costs, such as paying for a carer. As remember, this can be offset against our earnings. Or, we may be able to pay a little more into a private pension to offset against our increased earnings.
Remember that we need to let the Carer’s Allowance department know of any changes to our circumstances.
If we are receiving any other benefits these will need to be factored in.
Aside from the earnings threshold to retain Carer’s Allowance, it’s important to remember that we must also still be caring for a minimum of 35 hours per week. If a new job or working more hours changes this, we may not be eligible to continue receiving Carer’s Allowance.
It can be helpful to remind ourselves of the Carer’s Allowance eligibility criteria.
Universal credit and work
If we’re an unpaid carer receiving Universal Credit, and looking to return to work, then it can be helpful to know that we may be eligible for a work allowance. This is a set amount of money we can earn, before our Universal Credit payment is affected.
We may be eligible for a work allowance if we (and/or our partner) have either:
Responsibility for a child or,
Limited capability to work
We will have an appointed work coach, who can help us to understand and confirm our situation.
Once we hit our earnings limit, will we start to see our Universal Credit payment reduce (known as tapering). The Government website sets out the work allowance we may be eligible for.
We can use a benefits calculator to see how a new job or increasing our working hours may affect our Universal Credit payment.
If we’re self employed, then our earnings may be calculated using an assumed level of earnings, called a minimum income floor.
If we’re looking to start up as self-employed, then there is a Start Up period. This means that the minimum income floor is not applied for the first 12 months. Plus, we will not be required to look for alternative paid work during this period.
Carer Rights at work
Carers have protection from discrimination at work by law, in a number of ways. It can be helpful to have this knowledge, particularly in empowering us to ask for what we need (and are legally entitled to).
But also to protect those boundaries, if it feels like work is challenging them. Our protected rights include:
1. The right to request flexible working
The Flexible Working Bill is now an Act of Parliament (law). This means that all workers (across all industries) have the legal right to request flexible working twice a year, from day one. Employers will have two months to respond and they'll have to consult with us if the request is declined.
2. The right to time off to care for a dependent
This is the right to take time off work to look after the person we care for, whether it be GP or hospital appointments, under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
3. The right to one week of unpaid carers' leave
Coming in 2024: The right to one week of unpaid carers' leave. The Carers Leave Act was passed on 25th May 2023, and we're awaiting an implementation date, expected to be in 2024. The Act will give 5 days unpaid leave from work, to support those we care for.
Our employer may also have policies in place to support carers in the workplace, this could include a carers network or additional leave. Ask about their carers’ policy and wellbeing support.
How working can help unpaid carers?
Many carers share that whilst balancing work and care is challenging, it is often well worth the juggling. And in fact, the day many carers have to give up their paid work, can be incredibly sad.
“I feel like me”
“I get to see other people”
“Caring and working is exhausting, but it ironically keeps me sane”
“I have so much more to give and felt so frustrated just being at home”
“I hated relying on benefits and wanted to have something for myself”
“I’m a much nicer person when I’m able to work too”
Being able to continue or return to work can bring many benefits, including:
Improved financial situation day to day
Improved financial situation in the future, such as from paying into a private pension
Some employment may bring benefits such as healthcare plans or life insurance
A sense of identity
This, in turn, can support us to keep on caring (if we wish to), from a more sustainable pool of emotional energy. Working can support us to retain valuable boundaries and can reduce our feelings of resentment.
As one carer puts it:
“Caring and working can be hard. For me caring and not working is harder. I like the Glennon Doyle quote - “choose your hard” - so I choose to work, for as long as I can.”
Is it possible to work full-time and care?
For some of us, this is possible. But it doesn't come without obstacles, and unfortunately burnout.
Carers in the Mobilise Community point out that working from home or requesting flexible hours have made caring a little more manageable for them. So this might be something we want to consider.
"I work full-time, from home now, but juggling both is really hard"
"I worked full-time for the 12 years I could care fir my mum. Luckily I could work from home/flexi when I needed to. Wouldn't have been able to do it working 9-5."
"I run my own company, so I'm lucky enough to be able to work from home on the computer, whilst caring for my 96-year-old bedbound mother. It's hard..."
Full-time work alongside caring is definitely not easy - and in the process, checking in with ourselves can reduce the likelihood of us reaching burnout. We've created a helpful guide on the warning signs of carer burnout, and how to recover once we've reached burnout.
How can I make working possible?
Despite it being hard, it's more possible than we think. Carers in the Mobilise Community share some tips on how they were able to make it possible:
Create some time to focus on yourself and getting the job you'll enjoy
Value your lived experiences as a carer, such as the negotiating, organisational, and timekeeping skills
Find an employer who values their workers (check what benefits they offer)
Take small steps - it might be starting off working one or two days a week
Ask if friends and family can help a couple of hours a week
Don't be afraid to delegate tasks - it's part of setting healthy boundaries
Reflect on how the workplace is making you feel after a few months
Returning to work after a caring break
It might feel like we're faced with even more barriers returning to work. Weighing up the risks of losing our benefits and the risks of losing our self-worth if we stay where we are.
Then comes the logistical stuff. Refreshing our CV, catching up on the latest technological developments, or touching base on skills that used to be second nature to us.
Whether our caring role has ended or we’re still caring, being out of paid work for a while can make it harder to rebuild our confidence when we find we're up against younger people.
But small steps matter to rebuilding confidence. Below, we've shared some ideas and carers' tips for tackling some of these obstacles:
Volunteering might not be for everyone but it can provide a flexible route back to work. An opportunity to make connections, be around new people, and maybe learn from them.
It’s also a great way of test-driving how much time or energy we might be able to give to a job, without the commitment that goes with a paid position.
“I didn’t think I had ‘space’ to work around caring, but knew I wanted and needed to do something else for me. Volunteering allowed me to ‘try’, and it was great. I realised that lots of the stuff that had previously kept me busy, could melt away and I made space. It meant I could let go of some things - such as my house isn’t as tidy any more, and that’s OK. I also delegated some things too. It just felt good to do something for me.”
There are different types of volunteering covering a huge spectrum of roles, from administrative work at a charity, to gardening on a community allotment. From becoming a trustee of a charitable organisation to sweeping leaves, painting walls or charity shop work.
It’s helpful to think about what type of role we would enjoy and/or would help us to build valuable experience for an eventual return to paid work.
Local Facebook groups are often a good place to find volunteering opportunities locally. Or organisations such as Do IT can help to find roles or simply generate ideas for us. Your local supermarket may also have a noticeboard that could include opportunities.
2. Finding flexibility
Many of us need a flexible working pattern to fit around appointments, poor health and caring routines. So how can we get this?
Carers have shared their thoughts:
Bring our whole self to the interview
Share our caring challenges and the support we might need. But also the value that being a carer has for us and for the organisation. Be bold about this. As carers, we rock. For example, our abilities in multitasking, grasping non-verbal communication and empathy are likely to be unrivalled!
We are an asset. We rock.
If the organisation fully understands our needs, they’re much better placed to create a working environment and work pattern that can be successful for us. And remember, we are protected by law from discrimination. Although we hope this is something you never need.
Lots of carers have found their way back to work, by becoming self employed. It can feel scary, but it provides the flexibility many of us need. We can choose our hours and / or the clients we work with.
From crafting and running an Etsy shop, to becoming a Virtual Assistant. Many freelance roles can be ‘work from home'.
“When I went freelance it did feel a little scary, but actually it’s been great. I found lots of free Facebook groups and Youtube channels to help me learn about marketing my services online and setting up my website. I found all the learning a lot of fun. I was able to completely work around my caring role and honestly I haven’t looked back.”
These aren’t for everyone, but some carers like the zero-hour contract, as it gives ultimate flexibility over which shifts we agree to. Of course, it also means that there is no guarantee of a shift.
Coaching can be a fantastic tool to build our confidence back up. It can help us to focus on the ‘whole of us’. Helping us to identify what we want, how we want to feel, and our strengths.
Whilst also helping us to identify any limiting beliefs we may have about ourselves (those niggling voices in our head that tell us we can or can't do) - working to shift these, so they don’t get in our way.
We might also be able to find free coaching with a coach who is training or newly qualified. They often look to work with people free of charge in exchange for feedback or to simply build up their required coaching hours.
Sites like Coach me free can help us find someone. Before we start working with someone it can be helpful to find a few things out. Ask about their credentials, where they are in their training and who they are training with. Ideally they’ll be affiliated with an organisation like the ICF or ECA.
Some local authorities and local carers’ centres also offer free ‘return to work’ schemes for unpaid carers, and often these schemes can include an element of coaching.
Return to work schemes for unpaid carers
It’s worth checking if our local council or local carers' centre offers a free return to work programme. A quick Google of your local council and "unpaid carer return to work scheme" might yield some helpful results.
For example: “Greenwich unpaid carer return to work scheme” brings up this:
Return to work courses
There are also a lot of return-to-work courses, across all kinds of industries - both paid and free. From The Digital Garage (free Google online training course covering digital skills and social media), to educational YouTube channels like Khan Academy.
Check out our list of online learning courses (paid and free) that we might want to take up alongside caring, to build up our CV again.
Another option is that some banks are now offering similar return-to-work courses, if you happen to bank with them - such as Barclays Life Skills.
By getting specific with what we want, we can use a search engine like Google, to find all kinds of opportunities, to support us in returning to work.
Whatever the path is to paid work, the Mobilise Community is here to support you through the process.
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