Photo Credit: Bedford Borough Liberal Democrats
In 2019, Wendy Chamberlain became the Member of Parliament for North East Fife and made it one of her priorities to provide better support for carers in the UK. The Liberal Democrat has subsequently put forward a new piece of legislation that will provide employees with the opportunity to receive unpaid leave if they have caring responsibilities outside of work.
The bill has received widespread support from members within her party, as well as other party members in the House of Commons. It has now passed through its first two readings in the House, as well as the committee stage, and there is a widespread belief that it will make it to the statute book.
To learn more about the bill, Emily Holzhausen – the Director of Public Affairs for Carers UK, met up with Wendy to discuss it. Emily has worked for Carers UK for over 30 years and one of the first pieces of work she looked at when she started was the idea of unpaid leave for carers. Now, 30 years later, it seems like the ball is finally rolling.
Why the carer’s leave bill?
When an MP is elected, they will typically receive emails from hundreds of different institutions and organisations who are looking to push forward a piece of legislation. So, what was it about the Carer’s Leave Bill that piqued Wendy’s interest?
“I was very conscious that I wanted to look at something that would actually bring about some change,” Wendy said.
“My husband is currently a carer for his mother and I know plenty of other people who are trying to deal with this and work commitments at the same time. Carers UK was one of the organisations that emailed me and when I look at what carers leave constituted and what our party policy was, it seemed like a really good opportunity.
The government should have already brought forward something similar as per their manifesto but they’ve failed to do that so there was an opportunity to take this forward.
From older people who have had to quit work or reduce their hours to care for an elderly relative to young people who aren’t even able to start their careers due to caring commitments, this bill will potentially ease the burden on all carers.
Wendy explains that the bill would give carers “the right to request unpaid leave from their employers” for caring commitments. As it stands they aren’t able to do this by law. Not only that, but employers wouldn’t be able to turn down the first five days requested. Wendy added:
“The fantastic thing is it’s a day one right. They are expected to give a degree of notice but an employer can’t turn the request down. I was talking to a constituent last night who will benefit from the bill and we were just talking about the guilt that working carers have.
This guilt stems from the fact that they can’t properly give the care they want to a loved one but also because they aren’t seen as fully contributing from an employment perspective.
There isn’t a requirement for the employee to provide proof of their caring requirements, although if we want to look at getting paid leave then greater thought will perhaps have to be given to that.
One of the key challenges we have is getting people to recognise when they’re in a caring relationship. My husband doesn’t think he’s a carer, he just thinks he’s helping his mum but he is, he’s providing that care and support that she needs.”
Wendy, who is leading by example by already implementing the policy in her own office, is delighted with the support she has received across all parties in relation to the bill. Having only been elected in 2019, she is a relatively new MP and was concerned that her lack of connections could hinder her, but she has been pleasantly surprised. She said:
“I have been encouraged by the support that the bill has received. I think everybody recognises this is important because everybody has constituents that will benefit from this. It’s brought the role of carers into the public consciousness and that alone is hugely important.
The government are looking to move forward with implementing this into employment law as soon as possible because, as MPs, they know that their constituents will benefit from it.”
Considering Emily Holzhausen first looked at an iteration of this bill 30 years ago, it’s reassuring to know that it is finally on the path to the statute book, particularly when you consider the current statistics around the issue.
Last year, Carers UK estimated that there were 10.6 million unpaid carers in the United Kingdom and that around 12,000 people become an unpaid carer each day. These people need as much support as they can get and even an extra week’s breathing space from their employer would go a long way.