Members Virtual Networking Event - Supporting carers in COVID-19: Recovery and return | October 2021

On 19 October, Employers for Carers hosted their Autumn virtual networking event on the theme of Supporting Carers in COVID-19: Recovery and Return.

The event was opened by Nick Baird, Chair of Carers UK who welcomed our latest EfC members since the last event in June along with our newly Carer Confident accredited employers. He touched on how organisations are planning their return to the office or place of work in different ways, with most looking to implement more flexibility than had existed before the pandemic.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, gave a round-up of recent activities including the charity’s AGM and members conference and preparations for the annual State of Caring conference and related survey report in November. She welcomed the Government’s announcement of plans to make the right to request flexible working a day one entitlement and to introduce a new right to one week’s unpaid carers leave. Carers UK has long been campaigning for statutory carers leave and she thanked employers who had responded to the government’s consultation last year. Finally, members were also reminded of Carers Rights Day on Thursday 25 November and how important it is for employees to find out about their rights as a carer and where they can go for support.

Kelechi Dibie from Newcastle University then updated members about recent activities in her workplace. Following a self-assessment on the current situation for carers, a carers workstream steering group ran a series of surveys and focus groups to explore relevant issues. As a result, the University now has a network for staff as well as students, carers are consulted on policy issues, and there is a blended working policy and dedicated section for carers on the internal intranet.

Angela Gibson from TSB spoke about how, during the pandemic, they wanted to ensure they were supporting the most vulnerable, including carers. They engaged with their carer community to ask about the challenges carers were facing. They noticed that use of carers leave increased and managers were more aware of the challenges carers face. Now accredited as Carer Confident Accomplished, TSB believe this will help them build the platform to have more conversations around caring.

Next to speak was Layla Williams-Carr from the Metropolitan Police, who have estimated that they have around 5,000 carers within their organisation. They provide support in the form of a Carers Network, Carers Leave and at the beginning of the pandemic introduced a Carers and Disabled Passport which has had a strong take up from employees. The organisation offer fortnightly coffee for carers sessions and answer queries from a dedicated mailbox.

Richard Phillips from Hastings Direct highlighted that pre-pandemic, they were early in their journey in supporting carers but have now set up paid Carers Leave and stepped up health and wellbeing initiatives. They have also pushed out information about the flu vaccine and provided flu vaccine vouchers. They are keen not to lose momentum after the pandemic and to ensure that they continue to provide flexibility and support for carers in the longer term.

Our final speaker was from Ministry of Justice which has had a big focus on flexibility and wellbeing. The majority of employees in the organisation are operational, therefore they have been working hard to find ways to enable flexible working, for example rostering staff. The department also have a Carer Passport and they continue to raise awareness to increase uptake. Going forward, they are looking to concentrate on smarter working and hybrid working for their employees.

A Q&A session with all participants followed, with some interesting topics raised including how speakers came to take on their roles and how Carers Champions and Network Leads manage their workload. Nick concluded the discussion by remarking on the fantastic networking that had taken place at this event and highlighting a special additional virtual session that will be taking place for EfC members on 10 November on smart technology with experts from Carers UK and Smart Energy GB.