I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Let me first echo the hon. and gallant Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and say that it would be remiss of me not to comment on the fact that the Bill was scheduled to have its Second Reading on 9 September. Very sadly, the death of the late Queen Elizabeth prevented that. I am therefore pleased to have the opportunity to present the Bill today. Again like the hon. Member for Barnsley Central, I want to recognise the work of previous Ministers, in this case the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) and the hon. Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), who is in the Chamber, and thank them for their support for the Bill so far. I also thank the civil servants at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who have been a constant thread in the time that has elapsed since I took up this cause.
In many respects, carers are the backbone of our country. We think of caring for our loved ones as often a small and personal thing; we do it behind closed doors. It can be full-time personal care—washing, dressing or feeding; things that we instinctively think of as private—or it can be, for instance, making appointments or taking someone to a hospital appointment. Those are the small things that we do for people we love, or know, without questioning it. Taken together, however, all those individual acts of caring are huge. In 2016 the Office for National Statistics estimated that the gross value of unpaid care in the UK was almost £60 billion, and we know that that figure will only have gone up in the last six years. This country would collapse without its unpaid carers, and their importance must not be underestimated.
The Liberal Democrats have long championed unpaid carers, and never more so than under the leadership of my friend and carer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey)—I do not mean that he cares for me, but he has spoken in this House and other places about the care he gives to his family. At the height of the pandemic, the Liberal Democrats campaigned to have unpaid carers recognised as a priority group for vaccinations, and we have long been calling for employment rights for carers, including the type of leave that the Bill will introduce. Indeed, all Bills that will hopefully achieve Second Reading today are about improving employment rights for all.
Although I knew that the Bill had the backing of my party, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of cross-party support it has received. I have received support from Members from every party in the House, and I am pleased to see Members here today. Sadly, I know there would have been others, but for the rescheduling of the Bill. Indeed, I was even more ahead than the hon. Member for Barnsley Central, because I managed to secure members of the Committee before I got here. For example, I know that, among others, the hon. Member for Gosport (Dame Caroline Dinenage), who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on carers, and the hon. Members for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans), for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), and for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell), wanted to be here today, but they were unable to due to the rescheduling. I have been tapping them for Committee membership as a result.
I have had conversations with the Government, who I hope will support the Bill. It is disappointing that we have not had the opportunity to have an employment Bill, as proposed in the Queen’s Speech in 2019. That was long-promised, but sadly never delivered, and although that has given me, and others, the opportunity to bring forward employment legislation, we must ensure that other gaps are filled by the Government.
Members are here today because this is a good Bill, and if the House will bear with me, I will set out in more detail some of what it proposes. It will mean that for the first time ever, all employees from their first day of employment will be entitled to take time off to help manage caring responsibilities. That fills a gap in the current law whereby although employees can take limited time off for emergencies, and parents can take time off to care for their children, there is no provision for the day-to-day planned caring of adults.
The idea of a caring responsibility has been drafted widely to include as much as possible. As I said at the outset, a lot of things count as caring. Caring can include day-to-day physical support, taking someone to appointments or doing the shopping, liaising with medical staff, or sitting with someone as they struggle through a diagnosis. It could be helping elderly parents move into sheltered accommodation, or the time spent arranging for social carers to visit daily. It includes support for someone with a long-term physical or mental illness, and anything to do with old age.
The Bill has also been drafted widely to include as many caring relationships as possible. We would obviously expect it to cover immediate family, but the Bill goes further and includes not only cohabitees, tenants and lodgers, but anyone who reasonably relies on an employee to provide or arrange care. This summer I spoke to one of my constituents in relation to the Bill. In addition to caring for his wife, he does the shopping for an elderly neighbour. That small act of kindness is also caring, and the Bill recognises that.
The leave is flexible and incredibly light touch. It can be taken in half-day chunks, and it works through self-certification. The notice period is expected to be short, at twice the length of time to be taken plus one day. For most people, if they want a half day on Wednesday afternoon that means letting their employer know by Monday lunchtime. As flexible not emergency care, I believe that to be reasonable, and in line with current regulations for annual leave so easy for everybody to understand. Most importantly, employers cannot refuse a request for leave. They can ask for it to be postponed, but only in a manner that is reasonable.
I want to emphasise some of the points that the hon. Lady is making, which illustrate that having that flexibility built in with the notice provisions, and a Bill that affects anyone who is involved in providing care, is crucial. I commend her for her work in bringing forward this Bill.
I thank the hon. Member for his contribution. Yes, we need to be flexible—that is important —because there is such a range of caring. It is also important, however, that we align that with other existing legislation, as that will make this easier and less burdensome for employers and employees to understand. I do not want the Bill to become law but then people do not utilise it, because they are not aware of it.
I met the Minister and officials to discuss the Bill and to ensure that it is the best we can get it before becoming law. That means that, in some areas, it does not potentially do everything that I would want it to do, if it were down to just me. For a start, my instincts would be to want the rights to be implemented immediately through primary legislation. That is not possible, which means I am trusting the Government to act in good faith in supporting the Bill, and I expect them to bring in the proposed regulations at the earliest possible opportunity. I will be here to make sure that they do.
The Bill does not go as far as Liberal Democrat policy would go. We would like there to be more time and for that to be paid, but I accept that this is a journey and that this is a vital first step in getting these rights on to the statute book now. There is nothing on the statute book that recognises leave for caring.
It is estimated that 2.3 million carers—that is a conservative estimate—cannot wait for the perfect policy to be put in place. They need these rights as soon as possible. According to the 2011 census, there are at least 3,000 carers in my North East Fife constituency. I spent summer recess meeting many of them. I have been told time and again that, although the Bill will not make their lives easy, because caring is challenging, it will help just a little bit to keep some of the plates spinning.
I learned a lot this summer about the vast variety of caring experiences that people have. Karen cares for her 91-year-old mother. She drives from Cupar in North East Fife to Annan every weekend to be with her mother—I assure the House that that is a long way; hon. Members should look it up on a map following the debate—to make sure that she is stocked up and to deal with any household tasks that need doing. Her mum is fiercely independent and wants to remain in her own home. She makes and manages her appointments and, despite the 125-mile distance between her and her mother, she is a carer and needs her employer’s support to make things work.
I agree. During my conversations I find that carers are using annual leave and emergency unpaid leave, when they need to, in order to undertake caring responsibilities, and that sadly—as I will mention later—they are forced out of the workplace because they cannot manage to balance their responsibilities.
I also met the Fife carers support group in St Andrews, a group who call themselves, and I hope the House will forgive my language, the CRAP carers—that stands for compassionate, resourceful and patient. One lady was caring for her grown-up son, who is coping with severe mental health challenges, two were caring for terminally ill parents, and parents and partners with dementia were being cared for. All were doing so with huge amounts of grit and compassion, and indeed humour—as the name they have chosen shows.
I came away from meeting that group feeling not only uplifted by their love for their family members, but angry because a number of them expressed guilt—guilt that so much of their time is spent dealing with the administration of caring, rather than feeling that they can give their loved ones the care that they need. That care admin includes negotiating with their employers.
I will bring to the House’s attention the experience of one of my constituents in particular. Amanda works full time as well as providing increasing care to her mum and dad. Her dad has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and her mum, having been forgetful for a few years, is showing clear signs of dementia. Many of us will recognise that path: forgetfulness followed by confusion; denial followed by anger; and frustration as managing day-to-day life slips away. For Amanda, that means setting up appointments and speaking to carers and medical professionals. It means popping in as often as she can to do the shopping, to keep her dad company, to make sure her mum is okay and to be there after nurses leave to manage her mum’s confusion and sometimes even distress.
That is all relatively new and, so far, Amanda’s employer has been supportive. She has taken some last-minute holidays and she has been able to take the odd day off, but she is worried about what comes next. Her mum is not going to get any better. Will her employer stay supportive? What happens if she gets a new manager? Something that struck me in the earlier debate today is that sometimes it is not just about employers, but about managers and line managers, and ensuring that they have the correct information to take the correct decisions.
Does the hon. Lady agree that this is just one of many changes that we will need to make as a society to reflect the fact that we are growing older and there are more and more of us who need care on a daily basis, much of which is thankfully provided by those heroes, unpaid carers and carers within families? I hope this is the start of a wider process where we reflect on what we can do to support carers in the incredibly important work they do.
Absolutely; we have seen a lot of family legislation come in to support that, but the reality is that many people are not only looking after children and dependants, but looking after older generations as well. That is an increasing challenge for people, for employers and for society at large.
If I could, I would want to make it all better for Amanda, but I cannot. Ageing and illness are a part of life, and we care for family members because we love them and it is what we do. However, I know from research by Carers UK, which has given me and my researchers so much support in bringing this Bill forward, that there is a significant risk that someone like Amanda will burn out and end up cutting back on work or having to leave work altogether. My goal is to help, and with this Bill we can make things a little bit easier, with the guarantee of time off when she needs it—to be there when the nurse comes, to make those appointments and to have the breathing space to manage.
There is of course much more we could do to help unpaid carers, both those in work and those who find it impossible to cope and have given up their jobs to care full time. I met many carers over the summer whom this Bill will not help, because for them it is too late and they have given up on the world of work.
The experiences of those carers and the loved ones they care for are best expressed by my constituent Amy. She has multiple sclerosis and is the chair of the Fife MS Forum, and her husband now cares for her full time. That is not unusual; research by the MS Society found that 34% of carers give up work when caring for someone with MS.
I must tell the House that Amy is a force of nature. In her working life she was a behavioural scientist specifically working with young offenders. So successful was she at engaging those young people that at one point the local police force started to hear positively about a potential new gang called “Amy’s lads”—young people who were rehabilitating their lives and proud to be associated with Amy and the work she did.
However, for Amy and her husband it all boils down now to making sure that carers are valued—and not just through words, which I know we can all be guilty of. I started this speech with the time-honoured cliché that carers are the backbone of our society, but we in this House need to show that we value them through our actions.
First and foremost, that should mean uprating carer’s allowance for those who receive it and reviewing the policy under which carer’s allowance counts as income for other benefits such as universal credit. It should also mean reviewing the amount of work carers can do before they lose their allowance. That is particularly important for young carers, because those young people are caring even before they get into the world of work and will potentially be prevented from ever entering it if we do not help them.
Being a carer is hard work even when we do it for loved ones, but if we really want carers to know they are valued and if we want them to have some dignity, we must ensure that we help them. Amy told me from her experience with the MS Forum that many carers feel they are failures—failures for not being able to balance their home and professional lives, failures for not being the perfect partners, failures for not being able to get everything right. Amy was not the only person who told me that; sisters Alex and Claudia told me the same thing. They need caring for a loved one to be seen as equally valuable to paid employment. I thank the right hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who is not here today, for his support to both sisters when they were his constituents. The work of the right hon. Gentleman and his team has been invaluable. I want every carer to know that they are not a failure—far from it—and we need policies to put that into action. I hope that all hon. Members agree.
To turn back to the details of carer’s leave, I will set out how the Bill will work for businesses. I am delighted that this is a policy where doing the right thing for people is also doing the right thing for businesses. Thanks to Carers UK, I have had several opportunities to speak with businesses that already have support policies in place for carers. A carer from one of those companies is in the Gallery. Those businesses include Centrica, TSB Bank, Nationwide Building Society, the Phoenix Group, CMS, and not forgetting the University of St Andrews, which is the largest employer in my constituency. From those meetings, I happily offer the House three key observations.
First, offering carer’s leave, even paid carer’s leave, makes financial sense for businesses in the long run. Centrica, which has been at the forefront of the move among businesses to be carer-friendly, offers 10 days’ paid leave. With 20,000 employees, it estimates that it is saving £3.1 million a year by avoiding unplanned absences and improving employee retention. It and other businesses also report increased loyalty and higher motivation. People who feel supported in difficult times are simply more likely to put in that extra effort in the good times. That was borne out by what I have heard from carers. They want to keep working and are grateful for the support from their employers that means that they can.
Secondly, I have heard about the importance of formal leave policies that are well communicated and widely used throughout organisations. There are many different businesses and organisations in this country, and within those companies, there are lots of people doing lots of different types of roles. I have heard that, even within organisations that are ahead of the game on such policies, it can be a challenge to get people to make use of the time that they are allowed. That sometimes makes people feel that the policies are not for them, because they work in a frontline or customer-facing role. That is why this law would help employees even in companies that are already on this journey. The Bill will make it a legal right, which will feel very different from just a perk of working for a good employer.
Thirdly, I was struck by the strength of feeling among businesses that there was a role for employers in helping their staff to recognise that they are carers and to feel supported and dignified in accessing the help they need. My husband is in the Gallery and he cares for his mother. He does not think of himself as a carer—many carers do not. Those businesses felt that introducing carer’s leave and other support, and reaching out to build a network, had been a catalyst that had kick-started an open conversation about what being a carer looks like. It helped people to realise the many forms that caring can take and that support is available to them. Again, the Bill plays a part in that by bringing the conversation into the open and into businesses up and down the country.
I also want to highlight the Scottish Government’s carer positive scheme. I am pleased to say that my office has just been accredited as a carer positive organisation. That is a way to identify and share good practice, and to show that an organisation is proud to support carers. If someone is in Scotland, I recommend finding out more about that.
Before I conclude, I will reflect on why this Bill works for the Government. Sitting on the Opposition Benches, I am not usually in the business of helping those on the Government Benches, but I assume that despite a tumultuous week, the Government are still broadly in favour of wanting to get more people, especially the over-50s, back into work—as set out in the growth plan of the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng). I agree with the Government on that, although I oppose any plans that force people into unsuitable work through the threat of sanctions or benefit cuts.
The good news for the Government is that the primary demographic that will benefit from the Bill and will be supported to stay in work is the over-50s, particularly women, who have a 50:50 chance of providing care by the age of 46—I am just about there—and are more likely to work part time as a result. If the Government want people who have a 50% chance of caring to be in employment, having employment rights for carers is a really good first step. As I previously said, this Bill will also help to get young carers into the workplace and support them as they come in.
I appreciate that I have touched on this already, and it is outwith the Minister’s portfolio, but it would definitely help if we lifted the number of hours that someone can work before they lose their carer’s allowance. At the moment, carers can earn only £132 per week before it is taken away. That is less than 14 hours on the minimum wage. Increasing that to 25 hours, ideally on the slightly higher living wage, would go so far towards helping carers to keep their jobs and support themselves. Put simply, if the Government want people to work, they should let them.
I know that many of my colleagues want to speak in favour of the Bill, for which I am grateful, so I would like to conclude my remarks by returning to Amanda—caring for her parents, now more a parent than a child, trying to hold everything together. We all in this place, through our constituency casework, our family and friends, know someone like Amanda; it may even be us in the future. Our constituents, too, will either be in this situation or know someone who is being stretched in every direction. We are passing this Bill’s Second Reading today for them. I commend the Bill to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), and I commend her for bringing in this important and timely Bill. She articulated so clearly the reasons why we need the Bill and its rationale, and I will not repeat the points she made because I could not clear that bar, but I want to chime in with support for the aims behind it.
The hon. Lady touched on some of the facts and figures, but we need to remind ourselves that in the first eight months of the pandemic, unpaid carers saved the state £135 billion. The contribution that this group of people have made to our society, particularly during that period but also more broadly, is without question. The truth is that, at some point in our lives, we will all having caring responsibilities of one form or another. This transcends society. It will impact every single person in the Chamber at some point, because we all have family members and people we love and care about, and it hits every single one of our constituents. The Bill is a great leveller for all of us, because we will all have to care for someone at some point, and we should not have to worry about our employment or financial obligations as a result of stepping up and helping the people we care about. I agree with the purpose of the Bill.
On the economics behind this, and particularly job retention, the hon. Lady talked about the £3.1 million a year that companies could save by supporting and retaining people through this legislation. As we touched on in the previous debate, we do not want to lose talented people from our workforce, but we run the risk of doing that if people cannot fulfil their caring responsibilities.
We come at this from different political prisms, as is often the case in the House, but we unite on the basis that this is an important, pragmatic piece of legislation. Those of us on the Government Benches often talk about giving people the opportunity to achieve what they wish to in life. Many of us are here or joined our party on the basis that we would do that. This issue is at the core of our principles as well, because it is about allowing people to achieve their potential, in spite of whatever circumstances may come their way, by giving them this opportunity.
I am proud to support the Bill, and the hon. Member for North East Fife has my support in what she is trying to achieve. If she needs someone to serve on the Bill Committee, she can put my name down; that is not a problem at all, and I expect an email in due course. What we are trying to do here today is absolutely right. Economically, it makes sense; socially, it makes sense; and morally, it makes sense. If we are determined to create a society founded on the basis that people care for one another and that we have strong family units and strong caring units, we have to ensure that there are the conditions in which they can do that. That means we have to legislate to ensure that those rights are protected, through carer’s leave and what this Bill tries to achieve.
The hon. Lady highlighted some organisations that are doing great work on this already, but that should not be the exception; it should be the norm. If we have to legislate to do this, we will, because it will ultimately ensure that people can achieve their ambitions and that we can care for people in society; that is what this is about. I can tell the hon. Lady that I absolutely endorse her Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on her success in the ballot and bringing forward this really important Bill. I commend her for mentioning Carer Positive, the Scottish Government’s scheme of which I have been a member for many years.
I may almost need to declare an interest as I was a carer for my late husband. I know that I was in such a fortunate position in being able to do that without any fear of having to ask for time off. I thank hon. Members across the House who supported me during that difficult time. It was a privilege to help care for him, but it was also much, much easier for me than it would be for any normal member of the public. That is why the Bill is so important.
I acknowledge the work carried out previously by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) unfortunately could not be here, but I am glad to hear that he has asked to be a member of the Bill Committee if everything goes smoothly today. However, I am not just here in his place as the SNP spokesperson on disabilities.
Where people have disabilities, their carers in particular work really hard and are fully deserving of a hand from the Government. So many organisations do good work. In particular, I commend Carers UK. I went to one of its drop-in sessions in this place having intended just to pop in and out, but I stayed for an hour and a half simply hearing about the first-hand experiences of carers, both in and outwith work. The Bill deals with people who are in work so that, by right, they will get leave to do important, necessary things such as shopping and hospital appointments and all the things that the hon. Member for North East Fife mentioned.
It does not reflect well on our society if we expect carers to care all the time and get no help from the state. It is really important that we acknowledge and help them. As people have said, not all heroes wear capes, and that is really true of folk who are working and doing unpaid care. Many people are helped by organisations such as North Lanarkshire Carers Together, which is based in the same office building as me in Motherwell. I am sure that it would highly appreciate the Bill progressing.
Evidence suggests that about 5 million people across the UK are providing unpaid care by looking after an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend. Nearly half of them are also in work. As was mentioned in the previous debate, we have an ageing population in the UK, so we can expect that the number of carers to rise substantially.
It can be a real struggle to balance work and care. Many carers say that they are tired, stressed and struggling to manage their own physical and mental health. They urgently need more support to ensure that they can remain in work. The successful passage of the Bill would be a major step forward in recognising the enormous contribution that unpaid carers make to the care, health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities across the country.
When we think of carers, we tend to think of people looking after elderly relatives or parents, and sometimes of someone looking after a family member or friend. In reality, the person requiring care could be someone with an almost unimaginable range of circumstances, including adults and children of all ages. It is really important that we provide people with support so that they can do that caring.
It may seem strange to say, but carers leave could also have significant benefits for employers through lower recruitment and retention costs, better staff planning and better engagement. It will help to keep many more skilled people, the majority of them women, in work and contributing to our economy. The hon. Member for North East Fife mentioned the number of people who have to leave employment because they cannot do the necessary juggling.
Carers leave could also improve workforce health and wellbeing outcomes, which is important for everyone. It is still the case that most, but not all, carers are women. If women are in work, they can be role models to other women. These role models disappear if women have to leave work because of caring responsibilities. It is good when the Government and society recognise what people are doing. Although this is a small measure, it is important recognition.
We owe a debt of gratitude to carers who voluntarily do so much to care for others in our society, and we as a Parliament must do what we can to support them. My absent hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, my party and I support this Bill, and we hope that this Government, and future Governments, will continue to recognise the value and contribution of unpaid carers and introduce legislation to ensure at least one week’s paid leave—ideally paid by the Government at a set rate in order to compensate employers—with a pledge to move to two weeks, or 10 days, of paid leave, and a longer period of up to six months’ unpaid leave.
I hope the Bill will proceed with Government support, and I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife for introducing it.
I rise to support the Second Reading of this excellent Bill, and to congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on introducing it. This timely Bill is much needed, and it is warmly welcomed on both sides of the House. I trust it will proceed smoothly through both Houses.
As the hon. Lady said, the world is full of carers who look after people far less fortunate than themselves. We should congratulate them on their work and, as the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) rightly said, we should recognise and support them wherever we can.
We heard in the previous debate about our falling birth rate and ageing population. All of us, at one stage or another, will undoubtedly need some form of care. In some ways, this Bill is an insurance policy. Indeed, the number of carers will undoubtably increase and, as we all know, the cost of living and inflation mean that the cost of professional care is extremely high. The cost of hospices, paid carers and retirement homes has therefore become an impossible strain on many families, and it increases the need for unpaid care.
I was shocked but, nevertheless, heartened to learn that in Harrow, the borough I have the honour of representing, there are now some 25,000 unpaid home carers—that is equivalent to one in 10 people—whose life is significantly impacted by caring responsibilities. It is also the second highest number of unpaid home carers in the London boroughs. Only 15% of those 25,000 carers receive any financial support or recompense at all, so 85% are left to fend for themselves. They have to juggle a career, their family and other responsibilities.
From hearing other colleagues speak this morning, I think that personal memories are powerful. I remember in my early 20s, when I was still at university, having to remotely care for my parents, who were both suffering with cancer. They eventually died of cancer, my mother at a very young age. It is vital that we recognise the stress placed on carers, their careers and families. Watching people you love die is very hard. You never forget it. It is vital to remember that some carers have to juggle caring responsibilities for other members as well. We must also recognise that dependency on care can be sudden. It can place people in an almost impossible position of how to deal with their circumstances at work. The Bill creates powers for the Secretary of State to enable employees to go on work leave, and quite rightly.
When passed, the Bill will immediately help 2 million people. That has to be good news. That is a high proportion of the population, showing how important the Bill is. The knock-on effect of allowing opportunities for carers to take time off work is that people are more rested and productive when they return to the workplace. It benefits the employer and the employee and helps people maintain a balance.
I welcome the Bill and the emphasis it puts on the hard work that carers provide. It is an important though probably not final step, because we need to support carers. I trust that the Government will not only encourage and give the Bill a clean bill of health, but also keep under review what else must be done to help carers. I offer my support to the hon. Member for North East Fife. I doubt that she will be able to support my private Member’s Bill in a few weeks’ time, because it applies to England only, but nevertheless, I am happy to extend a hand of friendship to arm her Bill.
I would like to thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for introducing and driving through this important Bill. It goes a long way in helping hard-working carers juggle their caring responsibilities with their employment. I will say only a few words, because we may otherwise run out of time, and that would be completely wrong for this Bill.
The approximately 4.2 million people across the UK providing unpaid care, over half of whom do so alongside their jobs, are playing a vital role in supporting some of the most vulnerable people, often at a cost to their own lives. I know from conversations with my constituents of the toll that providing care, often unexpectedly, can take—not just on the mental and physical wellbeing of the carer, but also on their household finances and other responsibilities, including their jobs. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person in this country who conducts any form of caring. It is a hidden cost to society. They maintain and look after it, and they do fantastic work. I thank them very much indeed.
Juggling caring responsibilities and work can be particularly challenging and can limit the participation of unpaid carers in the labour market. We know that women, who are often still the primary carers within families, tend to be disproportionately impacted. Carers must receive the right support to help them carry out their caring roles, and I welcome that the Government enshrined improved rights for carers in the Care Act 2014 and have been working hard to implement this ever since.
I was proud to stand on a manifesto that committed to extending the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers to one week, and I was pleased when the Government launched a consultation with their proposals for entitlement to carer’s leave. In their response to this consultation, the wide-ranging support for such a policy was highlighted, and it was evident that flexibility is the key to meeting the needs of carers.
The Bill draws on all this work and would ensure that flexibility is built into workplaces, so that from the first day of employment, carers can request leave to provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need. That is very important, because it means carers can move from job to job, improving their career, and yet still have help from day one. It is especially important that this additional rise is not dependent on length of service, and that it can be divided up as needed, because we must ensure that legislation accurately reflects the realities of caring, which is often unpredictable in nature. I welcome the Bill’s support from key stakeholders, who arguably have the greatest understanding of the needs of carers, including Carers UK. I support and welcome the Bill, and I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife for bringing it forward.
Like other speakers, I am delighted to support this Bill and I am very happy to follow on from a great speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt). Introducing a day one right to carer’s leave is a really good step forward in the crucial task of making life easier for the millions of unpaid carers who do such dedicated work across our United Kingdom. I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for bringing the Bill forward.
As we have heard today, very often caring responsibilities fall on women—although not exclusively, of course. Like the first Bill we reflected on this morning, this Bill is another way to ensure gender equality and that we are doing all we can to support women to pursue the opportunities and careers that they wish to pursue. We started out this morning reflecting on pregnancy and maternity leave; many women go through that in their 20s, 30s or 40s. We now are going on to the caring responsibilities that many women take on in their 40s, 50s and 60s. We have covered that spectrum today.
As I said in an intervention, I feel that this is just one point on a longer journey. There are many things in this country that we will have to change if we are to adapt to an ageing population that needs more care. Finding different ways to make life easier for those heroes who care for their elderly relatives will be an important task for us as a generation. Like others, I highlight the incredible economic value of the work done by unpaid carers. If that burden fell on the state, it would have a massive impact on the public finances and cost billions of pounds. We all owe carers a massive debt of gratitude. This Bill is just one small step in trying to repay that.
I recognise that many employers would already go well beyond what is in this Bill, and I encourage them to do that. In terms of legislation, I hope in the future we can go further than what is currently in this Bill.
I will close my brief remarks—I do not want to jeopardise this Bill or subsequent ones on the Order Paper—by commending all the carers in my constituency. I have met many of them in the 17 years I have had the privilege to represent Chipping Barnet in this House. They are incredible people who are incredibly dedicated. Sometimes they work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I single them out for their compassion and dedication, as well as the groups that support them, such as Friend in Need in east Barnet and the Barnet carers centre.
We all know that we face difficult decisions on spending and the public finances over the coming weeks and months for many reasons, not least the overhang of covid and the debts that has left us with. We must always ensure that we do as much as possible to ensure that the social care system is funded, not least because of the crucial importance of respite care in giving all of our wonderful unpaid carers support, respite and the opportunity to live their lives. I look forward to supporting this Bill today.
It is always an honour to speak in these debates, and this one in particular shows the emotion that flows round the House. I really thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for bringing forward this important legislation, and I thank all hon. Members who have spoken on this important issue. I will do my best to cover some of the key points—
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think it is a fair mistake. When one has been sitting here since 9.30 this morning, one blends into the furniture and background. I fully understand.
I, too, thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for bringing forward this very important debate. As I did in the previous debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), I congratulate her on securing support for this Bill from across the House. The speeches we have heard, which I will come on to, are all a tribute to how she has worked across this House to secure support. The point I made earlier was that, in any debate of this nature on a private Member’s Bill, securing such support requires a lot of hard work and dedication in working with colleagues and coming to compromises on certain issues. Well done to her and to all the hon. Members who have made excellent contributions during the debate.
The hon. Lady herself spoke very well about the huge benefits this legislation will bring. That point was continued by the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey). He gave a figure, which I was not aware of, of £135 billion as the amount that has been saved by the work—the fantastic work—done by carers. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) again spoke passionately about her personal experiences. She is quite right and I join her when she says that we, as a House and as a country, owe a debt of gratitude to carers for all the work they do. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is absolutely right in saying that the number of people who ultimately, with time, will need care will undoubtedly increase. I think that is a common-sense argument, and I agree with him. Both the hon. Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) and the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) also set out the huge benefits that the Bill will bring, and I absolutely agree with them.
I am conscious of the time, so I may not speak for as long as I did in the previous debate. I am very conscious of the need for the Bill to progress, but I will make a few points. First, I join all other Members in thanking carers for the fantastic work they do. I think all in the House would agree that there is no doubt that statutory carer’s leave is long overdue. While almost 5 million working people care without pay for friends, family and loved ones alongside their work, they have no statutory right to request time off to attend to these important responsibilities when the need arises. Instead, they are forced to take annual leave to care for their family or friends, rather than use it for their own rest and relaxation. Given the increased risk of sickness, exhaustion and burnout that unpaid carers face, they desperately need to take that leave for themselves. If they do not take annual leave, they are forced to rely on the good will of their employers to allow them to take unpaid leave instead. As we have heard with countless examples, that is given on some occasions and, tragically, is not on others. Given the important role that unpaid carers play and the fact that so many of them find themselves in precarious financial positions, especially with the soaring cost of living crisis, this situation is simply unacceptable.
Many Members have set out the huge benefits of having carer’s leave in statute. Carers UK has stated that granting unpaid carers the right to take carer’s leave would improve the finances of carers who would no longer have to reduce their working hours or give up work altogether. It would also increase productivity for employers by improving retention rates, and increase economic gains for the Treasury—a point made by other hon. Members. It would support women in the workforce who are, tragically, overwhelmingly more likely to be juggling work and unpaid caring responsibilities.
The issue of carer’s leave should have been addressed by the Government long ago. We therefore support the Bill, but it is disappointing that we have had to wait for it for so long while the Government have continued to drag their feet to introduce statutory carer’s leave. It is especially disappointing given that they promised in their last two manifestos in 2017 and 2019 to introduce statutory carer’s leave, creating false hope for unpaid carers up and down the country for the past five years.
While the Government were right to junk many of the proposals of their 2017 manifesto, the promise of introducing statutory carer’s leave should not have been one of them. I am sure that the Minister will explain why it has taken so long to get the proposals to the Floor of the House, and why these important measures are being introduced only as a private Member’s Bill and not as Government legislation, given their repeated commitments to me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) to introduce an employment Bill. As I said earlier, such a Bill would have allowed the Government to protect unpaid carers and much more.
We of course support the Bill, but it falls short of what unpaid carers really need, which is paid carer’s leave. Under the proposals set out in our new deal for working people, the next Labour Government will legislate to introduce just that, to ensure that working people can respond to family emergencies as and when they arise without being left out of pocket.
Unpaid carers are among the many unsung heroes of the health and care sector—a point that ran through all the contributions today. They step in to support their friends and family with care so that those people can retain some of their independence and dignity. I hope that the Bill progresses with support from all parties. This important Bill certainly has our support and I hope the Government will join us in supporting it.
I should start by letting anyone watching on Parliament TV know that this is not a glitch—I am genuinely on my feet.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain). I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for introducing this important legislation. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken on this important issue. We must remember that any one of us, due to circumstances in our lives or those of our loved ones, could be a carer, and perhaps one who needs to work at the same time. The Bill affects everyone across society, but especially those incredible people who care for others. With that in mind, I am pleased to confirm that the Government will support the Bill. I thank my predecessors, my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Jane Hunt) and for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), for their work in this incredibly important area.
Carer’s leave will enable unpaid carers who are balancing paid employment with their caring responsibilities to take some time out of work if required, which will provide increased flexibility to support them to stay in work. The Bill has support across the House, which I was pleased to see reflected in our debate.
The speeches of the hon. Member for North East Fife and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) were incredible, especially the statistics that my hon. Friend cited. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) gave incredibly powerful and moving testimony about her own experience. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) shared his personal experience with his parents; my heart truly went out to him.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) is an incredibly experienced politician and a staunch and hard-working representative for her constituents. She asked whether we should legislate to go further, and she recognised the importance of the Bill and of where we are today. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough cited powerful statistics in support of the Bill and spoke about her work on the Bill as a Minister.
The Bill will provide invaluable support to unpaid carers, who carry out such an important and often difficult role in looking after their loved ones. It has been wonderful to see support for it across the House and across the political spectrum today. The Government truly look forward, as I do, to continuing to work closely with the hon. Member for North East Fife to support its passage.
With the leave of the House, I will be brief, because I know that time is running short. I thank the hon. Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), who does so much to make Fridays work. Her advice and guidance to me have been invaluable.
My researcher Kathryn Sturgeon has done fantastic work with Carers UK. Carers UK, you are absolute legends in what you do for carers and for unpaid carers—thanks for your support with the Bill. I have worked closely with Fife Carers and with Fife Young Carers; it has been great to speak to so many constituents. I thank all hon. Members for their speeches and interventions: it is important that people out there know how much this House appreciates carers and their work.
The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) said that not all heroes wear capes. So many carers feel quite the opposite because of the burden that they face in their caring responsibilities. I am delighted to hear that the Government will support my Bill. I hope that we can send a message to carers that we do think of them as heroes, and we do appreciate what they do.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).