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Carers (Flexible Working)

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

19. What steps the Government are taking to increase awareness among carers of their right to request flexible working. (204063)

The right for carers to request flexible working is important, with the number of those aged over 85 expected to increase by 50 per cent. in the next 10 years. Despite the fact that most of them will be in better health, they will need some care and support. Employers are granting many requests for flexible working, but there is a low level of awareness of the right, which we will tackle with an information campaign.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that response. My constituency of Brent, South is the most diverse in the UK. As such, it is tradition that many people look after elderly relatives. However, they do not understand that they have a right to request flexible working. Can my right hon. and learned Friend expand on what the Government will do to ensure that people are aware of their rights when caring for elderly relatives?

We want to ensure that, in every community throughout the country, people are aware of the right, which the House introduced, to request flexible working if they provide any care for an older relative. Of course, it is important to have good public services to support older people, most of whom live independently in their own homes. However, family care is very important, and the stay-at-home daughter who used to provide that care is now a going-out-to-work daughter. Flexibility for those who are working as well as caring for relatives is therefore important. That will be part of the consultation on the carers’ strategy, which the Prime Minister established and is being led by the Department of Health. It will report later in the summer.

I apologise for not being present at business questions later, but I shall be attending the funeral of that redoubtable parliamentarian, the late Gwyneth Dunwoody.

The Minister previously promised that the Government would follow the Conservative party’s policy of extending the right to request flexible working to parents of all children under the age of 18. Will she guarantee to follow our policy of flexible parental leave, which would allow parents to have parental leave that they could share and give them the opportunity to take it simultaneously?

It is important for both fathers and mothers to have appropriate leave and flexibility in their work. The Government have led the way on that, and we will take it further. That is why we set up the review under Imelda Walsh to ascertain how we could build on the legislation that we introduced at a time when the Opposition called it an example of the nanny state. I am grateful to Imelda Walsh for her work. We will publish her report shortly and, at that point, will look for all-party support. The right hon. Lady is a bit of a Jenny-come-lately on the matter.

I am delighted to hear that there will be an advertising campaign to make people aware of the right to request flexible working. However, when someone suddenly has to become a carer, they sometimes drop out of the workplace. It is then quite difficult for them to get back in, because they have to have worked for an employer for six months before they can make that request. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into that, to ensure that people with caring responsibilities are not forced out of the workplace in the first place and to make it easier for them to return?

The question of people who have been out of the workplace with full-time caring responsibilities who need to get back in is something that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is concerned to include in his contribution to the carers’ strategy, which will be published later in the summer. The key thing, as my hon. Friend said, is that people should not have to choose between giving the care and support that they want to give to an older relative and remaining financially independent by going out to work. With the growing number of older people, which is a demographic revolution, we need to ensure that that is recognised in the structure and patterns of work. As for the 26 weeks, my hon. Friend will be aware that it is the normal condition across the board under employment law, and we do not propose to change it in that respect.