- Many unpaid carers also work: 80% of carers are of working age and carers make up 12% of the UK workforce.
- Carers have legal rights: Eligible carers have the right to request flexible working and to take time off to look after dependents in an emergency.
- Caregiver benefits for employees can make a positive difference: especially benefits that consider the physical, emotional, social and financial implications of caring for someone with cancer.
The impact of cancer is far-reaching. It has a physical, emotional and financial impact on those diagnosed with the disease but also on the friends and family members that step into an unpaid carer’s role to support them.
In the UK, survey results estimate that there are 1.4 million people aged 15 or over supporting someone with cancer. Of these, 23% say that being a cancer carer affects their working life. However, it isn’t just juggling employment and caring responsibilities that carers find difficult. Over half of cancer carers state that providing support impacts their emotional wellbeing and mental health, 38% say caring affects their social life and 16% have seen their income change.
As an employer, you might be wondering what you can do to support employee caregivers. Thankfully there are benefits available that can make a big difference to those caring for someone with cancer.
In this article, we outline the legal rights that cancer carers have, as well as offer suggestions for employee benefits that support carers’ physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing.
Supporting working cancer carers
If an employee tells you that someone they love has cancer, it’s understandable that you’ll want to support them however you can, while also protecting the needs of the business.
First and foremost, you should be sensitive to the fact that finding out a loved one has cancer is incredibly upsetting and that becoming an unpaid carer can cause significant upheaval to your employee’s life.
You should direct them to any company policies that relate to employed carers, so they know where they stand at work,as well as to information on where to get support for carers, including cancer charities, financial advice or mental health support.
Legal rights for carers in paid employment
Cancer and employment law in the UK is relatively clear for employees with cancer but when it comes to working carers, there are different regulations.The Work and Families Act 2006 gives certain carers the right to apply for flexible working, including arrangements that allow them to maintain their usual income. As an employer, you can refuse their request but must have a justifiable reason for doing so.
Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, as amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999, employees also have a right to take time off to look after dependents in an emergency. A dependent can be a child or spouse, but if supporting a parent with cancer, legislation can class them as a dependent, too. There is no set amount of time that employees can take, as it depends on the situation. While you can pay employees for emergency time off, you do not have to.
Caregiver benefits for employees
Around 13% of carers say that providing support for someone with cancer impacts their performance at work. This isn’t really a surprise when you consider that employed carers will often work part- or full-time, while also supporting their friend or family member, and managing the responsibilities of maintaining their home and personal lives.
Implementing well-considered benefits for employees caring for someone with cancer can make a significant difference to their lives, both in and out of work. Here are some suggestions:
Around 10% of cancer carers report that support from their employer, such as flexible working, would be beneficial to them. Flexible working can take many formats, including flexi-hours and working from home, and allows employees more autonomy when juggling work and care responsibilities.
For example, if an employee’s spouse is going through chemotherapy, flexible working may allow them to work in between taking their partner to and from appointments and looking after them at home.
Role sharing usually breaks down one full-time role into two or more part-time roles. It is an increasingly popular flexible working arrangement and is a particularly valuable option for cancer carers who find themselves unable to maintain full-time hours alongside caring duties.
Accommodating role sharing can make the difference between an employee staying or leaving a business. And while it can sometimes be challenging to find compatible employees to share the role with, role sharing can improve retention, generate a wider mixed skill set and improve employee wellbeing and productivity.
Mental health support
Studies have found that approximately half of those caring for someone with cancer meet the criteria for psychological distress, with over 42% experiencing depression and more than 46% experiencing anxiety.
Mental health support for employee caregivers is a benefit that can contribute significantly to their wellbeing. Support can include facilitating access to counselling, therapy, appointments to discuss medication and wellbeing apps, but can also include signposting employees to support groups and online forums.
Cancer carers often face economic burdens as a direct result of the care they provide. This can be due to loss of earnings or out-of-pocket costs, such as travel expenses and buying items for the person they are caring for.
Financial benefits for caregiver employees can help reduce financial pressures and the expenses they incur due to caring for someone with cancer. Financial benefits you can offer as an employer include:
- Additional paid time off
- Unlimited paid holiday
- Shopping discounts
- Physical wellbeing vouchers, such as free eye examinations and flu vaccinations
- Employee assistance plans
- Childcare vouchers
- Subsidised travel
On-demand practical support
Coping with cancer in the family can be incredibly tough, especially given that loved ones spend an average of 17.5 hours a week looking after someone with cancer. However, 20% of carers provide more than 35 hours of care a week and 16% provide more than 50.
Understandably, this often means that carers have little time to dedicate to other aspects of their lives, such as running their home, maintaining a social life and doing activities they enjoy.
This is why giving caregiver employees access to on-demand, practical support can be incredibly valuable. Services such as companiions, for example, offer as-needed support to help employees achieve a better work-life-caring balance.
Digital cancer support
Sometimes, cancer carers simply want to speak to experts who understand what they and their families are going through, and who can provide support not just for cancer patients, but for those around them too. This could be in the form of speaking to a mental health specialist or cancer nurse who can answer specific questions.
At Perci Health, we connect anyone who has been impacted by cancer with specialists offering a variety of support types, from psychotherapy to mindfulness and meditation. Want to become an employer who is at the forefront of wellbeing for cancer caregivers? Book a demo to find out more about how our on-demand virtual care clinic can help employees and their families.
‘Working while caring for someone with cancer’, macmillan.org.uk, May 2023, https://www.macmillan.org.uk/documents/getinvolved/campaigns/workingthroughcancer/workandcaring.pdf
‘Determining the number of carers of people with cancer in the UK and understanding their support needs and the impact caring has on their lives’, macmillan.org.uk, May 2023, https://www.macmillan.org.uk/_images/cancer-carers-in-the-uk_tcm9-298126.pdf
‘Depression among caregivers of cancer patients: Updated systematic review and meta‐analysis’, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, May 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9828427‘Under pressure the growing strain on cancer carers’, macmillan.org.uk, May 2023, https://www.macmillan.org.uk/documents/campaigns/under-pressure-the-growing-strain-on-cancer-carers-macmillan-cancer-support-september-2016.pdf