John Dunster Author

By John Dunster

Diversity & Inclusion Project Lead

The Carer’s Leave bill received royal assent on 24 May 2023, introducing a statutory entitlement to five days unpaid carers leave per calendar year, for employees that are providing or arranging care.

This is a monumental achievement that will improve the lives of millions, which is why it’s important to not only celebrate, but also reflect on what it took to get here and what it means.

Challenges of caring

To say that the road to get here was long and hard would be an understatement, and a large part of why that was the case is because caring is often invisible to most.

Many carers feel uncomfortable talking about their circumstances and many more find it tougher still to ask for help and support. In fact, many individuals who look after their loved ones may not even recognise that they’re carers because they see it as simply looking after family.

There are also many working-carers that feel ‘guilt’ about not being able to take care of their loved ones as well as they think they should, whilst also not being able to fully contribute in their place of work in a way that they would want to, making them even less likely to talk about the difficulties of balancing caring with work.

All of this contributes to caring being a difficult topic to have conversations about, making it largely invisible.

More visible than ever

Whilst the reluctance and difficulty around having an open and honest conversation about caring has made it challenging to bring it to the public eye, I’m thrilled to say that thanks to the decades of hard work, effort, and campaigning from many dedicated, committed, and distinguished individuals, the awareness around caring has never been higher than it is today.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint a single point in time when caring first came into the public eye, if I had to pick one it would be during the Queen’s Speech in December 2019.

It was during that speech that the Queen declared that an entitlement will be introduced that will provide unpaid leave for carers, representing hope for the millions of carers around the country while also sending a strong signal that change was on the horizon.

Fast-forward three short years into the future and the Carer’s Leave bill received its first reading in the House of Commons, initiating its journey to becoming law thanks to the efforts of Wendy Chamberlain MP.

Minister Hollinrake 4

Wendy Chamberlain MP, John Dunster and Patrick McCarthy, Co-Chairs of the Centrica Carer's Network and Kevin Hollinrake MP

Lucky Number 486

At this point it’s important to highlight the luck involved in getting the Carer’s Leave Bill introduced and ultimately passed.

The bill was introduced to parliament as Private Members’ Bill (PMB) through a balloting process that resembles a raffle. Without delving too much into the detail, backbench MPs choose a number, those numbers are drawn, and the first 20 MPs whose numbers are selected get assigned guaranteed Parliamentary time to present legislation of their choice.

This is crucial, because PMBs that are introduced through the balloting process have, historically, had greater chances of passing than ones introduced via other methods.

When picking her number, Wendy Chamberlain MP chose the same number as the first 3 digits of her collar ID that she had as a police officer, (number 486) and was selected as one of the 20 MPs that would receive parliamentary time to bring their bills forward.

It’s impossible to deny that a degree of luck and fortune was involved in both Wendy Chamberlain MP being selected, and her choosing to advance the rights of carers as opposed to one of the many other worthy causes she could have picked.

Without this, it's impossible to say with any certainty whether carers would receive any of the support that the act provides.

One thing is certain, however. The overwhelming cross-party support that the bill would receive, proved that its arrival in parliament was long overdue.

Priti Patel 3

Advocating for the Carer's Leave Bill with Carers UK

Our Part in Making History

Ever since the formation of the Carer’s Network in 2004, Centrica has been among the leaders in providing support to working-carers and as co-chairs of the network, Patrick McCarthy and I knew that we had to do our part to support the Carer's Leave bill.

We spoke at several events in support of the bill including an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Carers in July 2022, a parliamentary briefing for MPs and Ministers in January 2023 and presented to a group of peers, led by Lord Fox, ahead of the Second Reading of the bill in the House of Lords on 3 March 2023.

During these events we advocated in favour of the bill, speaking about our own experiences, the challenges that carers face, the help and support available for our colleagues here at Centrica, and the great things we’ve achieved together.

Some of the things we've shared included:

  • Centrica's leading carer’s policy which allows for up to 30 days of paid leave for working carers, and the impact it has had.
  • Centrica's Carer's Network, which boasts a regional network of representatives with broad geographical coverage that can provide local support to our colleagues, whether they’re working at a call-centre, office, or offshore rig.
  • Our Carer's Passport initiative to help carer’s facilitate conversations with their managers and colleagues around their needs.
  • Our efforts to identify and support our customers who are carers via the ‘Carers Flag’ in our customer database.
  • The mental health support available for our caring colleagues via our MyCare and MyHealth services

It was great to share our experiences and advocate in favour of the bill, knowing how much it meant to so many of our colleagues and all the carers across the country.

Hol 2Nd Reading Pic In Westminster Hall

Carers Network Co-Chairs John Dunster and Patrick McCarthy at the Second Reading at the House of Lords

Reflecting on the Act

The statutory entitlement to unpaid carers leave that was introduced through the Carer’s Leave Act is going to be significant and improve the lives of many.

A particularly great benefit of the act is the flexibility of its provisions. Thanks to the act working carers have the right and the ability to utilise the five days of unpaid leave in ‘parts’ or ‘chunks’, which allows for a significant degree of flexibility for things such as: doctor’s appointments, therapy, and so forth.

This is incredibly important and will go a long way in helping balance work with caring.

Another key benefit of the act is that it will bring caring to light, and more employers will begin engaging with carers in ways they didn't in the past.

As the act is implemented, organisations who may not have looked after carers in the past will begin to interact with them more, which will enable them to better understand not only what support working-carers need, but also the benefits of providing support. At Centrica, we've seen increased productivity, better staff retention, a wider talent-pool to recruit from, and many more.

I believe that this will lead to many organisations eventually enhancing their own policies beyond the five days of unpaid leave, in the same way that the policies of Centrica have been expanded to offer up to 30 days of paid leave alongside additional flexibility.

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Reception Celebrating the Carer's Act

Conclusions and the Future

The road to get here was long and challenging and there was certainly some luck involved in arriving to this point.

The passing of the Carer’s Leave Act is significant and will make a difference to many across the entire country.

Caring has never been as visible as it is today and the act represents a big step forward. It will play an important role both in showing the benefits of supporting carers to employers, as well as serving as a basis for engaging with the Government and other stakeholders in advocating for the interests of carers.

I’m proud to be a part of Centrica, the work that we do to support working-carers and our support for the Carer's Leave Act. I hope to continue to build on our efforts thus far to support carers both in and outside of Centrica, to ensure that everyone can get access to the help they need.