It was great to see so many familiar and new faces (albeit on screen) at our first ever virtual EfC Member Networking Event on 4 November. In response to the continuing coronavirus outbreak, the title of the event was ‘Supporting Working Carers in COVID-19’.
The event was opened and chaired by Ian Peters, outgoing Chair of EfC. He noted the very different look and feel of the session due to the shift to virtual, and flagged particularly the opportunities afforded by this change, namely that attendance was opened up to everyone without travel restrictions applying. The exceptional EfC membership retention rate of 96% was celebrated, as were the 23 EfC members who now have Carer Confident accreditation.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, addressed the event saying that there has never been a more vital time to support working carers before going on to share some key organisational updates. Since the outbreak Carers UK’s approach has focussed on three key areas: Support, Research and Action. It was clear from the start of the pandemic that there was an overwhelming need amongst carers for information, support and advice, with hits to the website up by an incredible 600% in the first week of lockdown back in March. External funding was secured to increase the helpline service from 12 for 45 hours a week. Two key surveys were launched and reports published, Caring behind closed doors and Caring behind closed doors: six months on.
Madeleine Starr, Director of Business Development and Innovation at Carers UK, then highlighted the top findings from the recent EfC member survey on supporting working carers during COVID-19: response and reflections. Employers with established support for staff with caring responsibilities have been better able to meet the changing needs of their workforce during the pandemic. The survey found that 90% of employers said they had put in additional arrangements to support carers during the pandemic, with around half of respondents saying their organisation had developed, or had plans to develop, additional policies in response to COVID-19.
Three member organisations shared some key ways in which their approach to supporting working carers has changed during COVID-19. Toby Hopkins, Group Diversity & Inclusion Executive at Sainsbury’s, shared that the company has introduced paid shielding leave for carers and are launching a new carers network ‘We Care at Sainsbury’s’. They also used Carers Week as an opportunity to connect with all staff, including those who were shielding at the time.
Philip Farrelly, who leads the Working Carers Employee Network Group at Nationwide, touched on the introduction of Carers Passports 18 months ago and 5 days paid Family Support leave as new initiatives. Initially, during COVID-19, HR did not offer specific support focus to Working Carers, which the Carers Network worked hard to rectify, to ensure extended support arrangements were made available.
We then heard from Steve Page, Co-Chair of the Financial Conduct Authority’s Parents and Carers Network. He emphasised the increased engagement since moving online and the value of their Carers Week webinar being hosted by COO for the first time which was used as a catalyst for further discussions with Senior Management around flexible working. According to three staff surveys, around 80% of Parents and Carers felt supported by the organisation.
The Q&A session with all participants followed, with some interesting points raised and top tips shared. The importance and challenges of reaching and supporting front line staff were raised, and it was agreed that a sub-group of members with a large proportion of shift workers would be facilitated centrally by EfC. Carers Leave was also discussed, with members keen to understand what is being asked for at statutory level and what enhanced options are available and successful.
The session was wrapped up with an introduction to Nick Baird, the new Chair of the Board of Trustees at Carers UK. He generously shared his personal experience of caring and noted how excited he is to join the organisation in this capacity and work with EfC members to do the very best for working carers.
This event marked Ian Peters’ last session as Chair of EfC, having served in the role since 2013. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks for his tireless commitment to the cause. We are proud of all that has been achieved during his tenure and delighted that he will continue his relationship with Carers UK as a lifetime vice president.