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Carer’s Leave Bill

Volume 828: debated on Friday 3 March 2023

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, the Long Title of the Bill is:

“A Bill to make provision about unpaid leave for employees with caring responsibilities”,

and that is what it will do. The Bill will give new rights to at least 2 million employees who have unpaid caring responsibilities, supporting them to remain in work and improving their health and well-being. It will also support employers’ retention and recruitment and increase their productivity. I must confess to a level of trepidation in making this speech which I did not expect to have. I spend most of my waking hours looking at legislation for what will not work and thinking of ways to explain to Ministers why things should not happen. It is a very unusual position I find myself in to be promoting the benefits and importance of a piece of legislation, so I beg your Lordships’ indulgence as I make this attempt.

I speak as the party’s business department lead, and I must confess to feeling something of a carpetbagger in supporting the Bill. The real credit for getting to this point lies on other shoulders, and it is on those shoulders that I now clamber. In particular, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and my noble friend Lady Tyler. I look forward to hearing from them later, as I do from all other noble Lords who will speak. The role of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, in bringing the issues facing carers to the fore has been exceptional and extends back decades—I did ask her, and I established that “decades” is the right word. Her counsel on the Bill has been invaluable, as has the counsel of my noble friend Lady Tyler. I am sure she will mention her Private Member’s Bill, which presages this one. The other shoulders on which I clamber belong to my honourable friend in the other place Wendy Chamberlain MP, who is standing at the Bar. It was thanks to Wendy that the Bill successfully passed all stages in the House of Commons on 3 February this year with no amendments, receiving support from the Government and MPs across the House. I am looking forward with anticipation to hearing the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Johnson—and anticipate his support. I thank his department for its help in preparing for this debate.

As I have said, the Bill has received strong support from all quarters: 85 MPs have explicitly stated public support for it and it has been endorsed by over 140 organisations, including small and large employers, trade unions, employer representative groups, local and national carer organisations and the APPG on Carers. Indeed, I was very pleased to meet a number of exemplar employers, both large and small, earlier this week to hear about their experiences of already providing carer’s leave and the positive impact that it is having on both their workforce and their business. They explained and brought home in human terms, and indeed business terms, how this leave is beneficial.

I also heard from two carers, both of whom are here with us today, who told me how invaluable it was to be able to take carer’s leave to better juggle work and care. I thank them for taking some time off and coming to your Lordships’ House. Again, they reinforced the human side of what we are discussing today. It really does matter—and it matters to an awful lot of people. Carers UK, which helped to facilitate many of these meetings, has been leading on this issue for years. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, has been very much a part of that. Its research has uncovered that at least 2 million people—probably millions more—in paid employment are unpaid carers, so this is a significant issue.

The stresses and strains of having to juggle paid employment with unpaid care has led to hundreds of thousands of carers leaving the labour market or reducing their hours in work. This is at a time when recruitment into all forms of business is almost at a crisis level. More than 500,000 people—half a million—left the workforce between 2018 and 2020 because of the lack of support, 600 people per day on average. The acute shortage of social care support is also placing additional unsustainable pressure on carers and making it harder for them to manage both work and care. Caring has intensified too, with the proportion of unpaid carers providing significant care—over 20 hours per week—increasing by 42% since 2020, so they are having to do more caring, often as a result of less other care being available to their families. Many carers now report—it is no wonder—that they are exhausted and burned out, especially those who find the process of juggling so difficult. The Bill will help to meet some of that huge caring challenge. Again, it does not pretend to sweep all the issues away, but it is an important step.

I will summarise the main elements of the Bill. It will provide powers to make regulations to create an entitlement to carer’s leave. It does this by inserting new provisions into the Employment Rights Act 1996. The leave will be unpaid and will be for the purpose of caring for a dependant with a long-term care need. All employees who meet the qualifying criteria will be entitled to the leave, no matter how long they have worked for their employer. It will be available to take in blocks from as small as half a day to up to a week in total at least—depending on future legislation—over a 12-month period.

I now go to the qualifying criteria. First, the person must be providing care for, or arranging for the care of, a dependant with a long-term care need. The definition of “dependant” is broadly drawn, and we should be very pleased about that, because it will make things a lot easier to manage and administer. The Minister talked about simplicity, and the breadth of drawing creates simplicity in the delivery. The Bill states that

“a person is a dependant of an employee if they … reasonably rely on the employee to provide or arrange care”—

“reasonably rely” is an important phrase in this Bill. This is a helpful safety net and ensures that a wide range of relationships are in scope, wider than just immediate family members.

Secondly, the definition of long-term care need is similarly broad. In the Bill,

“a dependant of an employee has a ‘long-term care need’ if—

(i) they have an illness or injury (whether physical or mental) that requires, or is likely to require, care for more than three months,

(ii) they have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, or

(iii) they require care for a reason connected with their old age.”

The Bill also requires that regulations set out the employee’s rights regarding their existing terms and conditions while on leave and have their right to return to work once they have finished their leave. The reference to terms and conditions does not, of course, include pay. As I have said, this is an unpaid leave right.

I believe it is important that the right to carer’s leave should work for both employees and employers. This is why employees will be required to give reasonable notice to take their leave, which enables employers to make necessary arrangements to manage their absence. In fact, in many cases, carers are having to use short-term sick leave or phone in sick to meet the care responsibilities they have. This is far less easy for an employer to manage than having advance knowledge that something is happening, where they can know the day and the hour, so it is actually a big advantage for employers.

The detail of notice requirements will be a matter for regulations, but the Government’s consultation response makes it clear that the notice period requirements may be similar to those for taking annual leave, which should keep the landscape simple for those requesting and responding to requests for this leave. I should remind your Lordships that there is a separate cover for emergency issues, which does not come within the Bill.

Employees have a right to carer’s leave, so it is stronger than a right to request, but the Bill acknowledges that there might be situations where it will be challenging for the employer to grant the leave requested. Therefore, an employer will be entitled to postpone the leave, but they may not deny a request. Clearly, this will be about the relationship between the employee and the employer, but the employee has a right. The aim of this approach is to ensure that employers engage with their employees so that they can agree on a suitable date. As with other employment rights, an employee will be able to make a complaint to an employment tribunal where their employer has unreasonably postponed or prevented them from taking carer’s leave.

I shall say just a few words about the general and delegated powers, because details of how the provision will work will be set out in secondary legislation. There are delegated powers in this Bill, and noble Lords, including me, have often been concerned, rightly, about the way in which delegated powers will be used. In this instance, the delegated powers will allow the Secretary of State to set out the extent of the leave entitlement and when it will be taken, and employee entitlements while on leave and on return to work. They will also allow for regulations to cover procedural requirements around notice periods and postponement, and the consequences of failing to follow requirements.

This is all wholly consistent with the approach taken to family leave rights generally. That consistency makes it clearer and easier for employees, employers and the legal community, and is a sensible and pragmatic approach. I was delighted that the DPRRC yesterday expressed no concerns with the secondary legislation in the Bill.

In conclusion, I encourage noble Lords to engage with the Bill. I think we all want it to succeed and to pass through your Lordships’ House as quickly and easily as possible. We have an opportunity here to make a real difference to the lives of those who will seek to rely on this entitlement in future, and the people for whom they care. I hope that with the support of noble Lords, we can take that opportunity and deliver legislation that can make a change for the better. I beg to move.

My Lords, perhaps I might be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fox, on his choice of subject and the excellent speech he made in support of it, to which I will add a brief footnote to demonstrate the support from my side of the House for his Bill, but also to focus on its application to young carers. Having spent much of the week listening to the noble Lord making critical comments about pieces of legislation, it was a refreshing change to hear him speak so positively about this one, and I congratulate him on getting a clear round from the Delegated Powers Committee.

Last month, the ONS published the second phase of data relating to unpaid care from the 2021 census, and the Carers Trust, to which I am grateful for its briefing, has produced an interesting note on what those census figures mean in relation to young carers and young adult carers. The headline was that the 2021 census figures showed a significant decrease in the number of young carers and young adult carers identified through the census, compared with 2011. I happen to believe that there are a number of reasons why those figures underrepresent the number of young carers, but there was a significant increase in the proportion of children and young adults providing significant levels of care, with over 140,000 young carers and young adult carers caring for more than 20 hours a week. Astonishingly, there are still close to 50,000 children and young adults providing more than 50 hours of care a week—the equivalent of a full-time job—which in many cases they have to reconcile with their commitments to education. The data also highlighted how young carers and young adult carers in England and Wales were more likely to be living in areas of high deprivation compared with their peers without caring responsibilities, and there is a message there for the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

While many of these young carers are still at school or college, a significant number are working and they struggle to balance caring with paid work. In the latest survey by the Carers Trust, 45% of young carers and young adult carers said that they were “always” or “usually” struggling to balance caring with paid work. Fewer than half of young carers and young adult carers said that they either “always” or “usually” get help from work to balance caring in their life.

By providing unpaid carers with a legal right to request additional leave because of their caring responsibilities, the noble Lord’s Bill will help reduce the need for carers to use annual leave or to give up work entirely because of their caring responsibilities, such as medical appointments or recovery from procedures.

One of the additional benefits of the noble Lord’s Bill is that it should lead to increased awareness about the needs of unpaid carers and should ensure that all employers have processes to identify unpaid carers from the point of application and also record which staff have caring responsibilities. It also has the potential to normalise conversations in the workplace about caring. This is something which will particularly benefit young adult carers, who say that they find it difficult to identify themselves as unpaid carers to their employers. I am interested in the final section of Part 1 of the noble Lord’s Bill, which provides a bit of a stick in that employers could be liable to pay compensation if they ignore the obligations in the Bill.

Finally, I support the Bill. I look forward to other speeches, in particular from the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, who has been campaigning on this issue for as long as I have known her, which I suspect is even longer than the noble Lord, Lord Fox, has. I support this legislation.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young, and I thank him and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for their very kind words. It has always been a privilege to be working for carers and I have always been fired up by being in contact with carers and being inspired by their contribution and their need. It is a pleasure that John and Patrick, two carers, are with us below Bar today.

Your Lordships will know that the Bill in front of us represents an issue that is close to my heart and that when it comes to Private Members’ Bills I have previous form. It goes right back to 1995, when my much-respected colleague, the late Malcolm Wicks, took the first Private Member’s Bill for carers through the House of Commons. I was not in your Lordships’ House then, but I was chief executive of Carers UK and doing what Carers UK continues to do: providing support and leading the campaigning to get better recognition for carers, as it has been doing for more than 50 years in one guise or another.

That first Bill, the Carers (Recognition and Services) Bill, was not all that we wanted it to be, but it was a vital milestone in the fight—and I use the word “fight” advisedly—for recognition of carers. We learned in that particular fight a very important lesson: it is better to get something on the statute book and use it subsequently to move on rather than risk the ideal being the enemy of the good.

That lesson was further learned in two more Private Members’ Bills, by which time I was a Member of your Lordships’ House and had the honour of seeing them through this House. It is a lesson I have firmly in my mind today as we contemplate this Bill, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. Its provisions are modest—some might say modest in the extreme—but they are of great significance.

Many of us have campaigned for many years to secure additional rights to better support people who are juggling paid work alongside their unpaid caring responsibilities. Indeed, I remember very well the Caring Costs campaign that Carers UK set up nearly 30 years ago. Interestingly, it was funded by a government grant—we must bear that in mind, perhaps. It was a ground-breaking piece of work which looked at unpaid carers’ experiences of being out of work and what would make a difference to them being able to return to work. That report from 1996 recommended a week’s, even two weeks’, unpaid leave for carers to be able to combine work and care, so this Bill has been a long time coming.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, will no doubt tell the House, she has tried previously on several occasions to bring forward legislation—unsuccessfully. I am therefore very pleased that this Bill, brought forward by Wendy Chamberlain MP last year, following the absence of an employment Bill, has made it this far.

As we have heard already, millions of people provide unpaid care to family members and friends in communities across the United Kingdom. While many do so gladly, willingly and with love, it often comes at great personal cost because carers do not receive the support and recognition they need.

A key benefit of the Bill will be to raise the profile of unpaid carers further by helping employers and other employees better understand what caring is. It is too often seen as a private matter and, as we have heard, carers are reluctant to identify themselves. The word “carer” is still not well understood and is often muddled up with “care worker”—although nowadays, thankfully, your computer is a little less likely to change it to “career”, as it always used to do.

While carers face many challenges, one area that can be particularly difficult is continuing to remain in paid employment while providing unpaid care. All too often, the assumption is made that you simply cannot do this—it has to be one or the other. I have lost count of the number of carers who have said to me, “It was a no-brainer. When my mother was going to be discharged from hospital, they automatically assumed that I was going to give up my job to care for her.”

The latest Family Resources Survey finds, as we have heard, that 2 million people undertake paid employment alongside their caring responsibilities. Research from Carers UK indicates that these numbers could be far higher, because of carers’ reluctance to identify themselves. So it is only right that we take steps to support carers to remain in work where they want to do so.

The stresses and strains of having to combine work and care have led to hundreds of thousands of carers having to leave the labour market or reduce their hours of work, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Fox. Having to leave work has a significant impact on carers’ finances, of course. Carers UK found that two in five carers who have given up work or reduced their working hours to care were around £10,000 to £20,000 per year worse off as a direct result. It also has a negative impact on carers’ pensions; more than half of unpaid carers are unable to save anything for retirement. This has huge implications for carers and the economy in the long term, with many left penniless in later life with the resulting effects and stress on the benefits system.

Beyond income, staying in paid work has a significant emotional effect on carers who can manage to do it. We know that mental well-being is higher among working carers in organisations that provide support than among those that provide no support. As one carer said, “I currently work two days a week and find hospital appointments clashing with workdays very stressful. I feel guilty about asking to swap days or take time off and guilty about not being able to attend appointments. A policy that allowed me unpaid leave would be good. I don’t think my employer is aware or understands what caring is like.” That is the case with many employers, although we must also pay tribute to the many employers that have taken up the carers’ cause and aim to provide support in their places of work.

However, while the Bill has significant benefits to carers themselves—supporting them to remain in work and improving their health and well-being—there are sound economic reasons for ensuring that carers are able to remain in work. The UK economy and the productivity of business and employers, including the public and voluntary sectors, depend on retaining their skilled and knowledgeable staff. Crucially, that increasingly includes employees who are trying to combine work with unpaid caring responsibilities. We know how many skills carers develop during their caring lives—not just the obvious caring skills but organisational and administrative skills, which can be of great value to employers.

Certain sectors of our economy are particularly reliant on employees who combine working and caring. For instance, the latest NHS England staff survey found that one in three NHS staff also provides unpaid care. It is vital that they are supported to remain in work, especially considering the current health and care workforce shortages, of which we are all only too well aware.

The Bill’s provisions will also have a positive effect on employers. Evidence shows that providing carer’s leave leads to increased productivity for employers by improving their staff retention rates, reducing their recruitment costs—we all know how much it costs to recruit a new member of staff—and supporting the health and well-being of their workforce, leading to far less absenteeism. The Bill will also bring economic gains for the Treasury through increased productivity, as more carers will be able to stay in work rather than having to reduce their hours or leave the labour market altogether, and thus pay more tax to HMRC.

It is clear to me that all parties will benefit from this legislation; it is a win-win situation. The Bill is well drafted and allows for the flexibility that is necessary for it to work in practice for both employees and employers. It is particularly welcome that the Bill will enable employees to take carer’s leave to care for a very wide range of people: a spouse or civil partner, a child, a parent, a person who lives in the same household or a person who may not be living in the same household but who still relies on you to provide care, and of course the definition of “dependant”, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, is widely defined, and that is very welcome too.

The Bill also allows employees to take carer’s leave for a wide range of reasons, such as providing personal or practical support, helping with official or financial matters including phoning and being on the internet, providing personal and medical care, or making care arrangements. Anyone who has ever tried to make such arrangements knows just how time consuming that is: making contacts, being passed from one to another and inevitably waiting for the call backs which do not come.

While we still need to go further in providing support for carers to help them to continue work and care, I see this Bill as a vital first step and as a commitment that in future we can ensure them even more rights in their workplaces, and I will look forward to participating in that legislation in the future.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. Her knowledge and expertise on this subject are unequalled in this Chamber. As she said, the Bill has been a long time coming and it is a vital first stage—and it is indeed that. I thank my noble friend Lord Fox for his detailed explanation of the Bill and congratulate my colleague in the other place, Wendy Chamberlain MP, for piloting the Bill to this stage. I am very pleased to support this Bill at Second Reading and I hope your Lordships will be pleased to support it and take it through to its next stage.

In an ideal world, I would prefer to see carer’s leave as a paid right. Indeed, many employers would subscribe to that, and many do it already. It is a good employment practice, the cost is minor and the employer will be more likely to keep valuable staff at a time when recruitment is getting harder.

The Bill has identified a clear gap in current legislation, in that it is not about emergency help or care for children who are ill, which are already legislated for, but it is about long-term, day-to-day caring needs for dependants and those close to the carer. As our population ages, this will become increasingly important. Crucially, the administration of the scheme is reduced to the minimum. Simplification matters because it means that those benefiting from it can follow the necessary procedures easily.

A key issue will be publicity. I was very struck by the comment of the sponsor in the House of Commons, Wendy Chamberlain MP, that

“a significant issue is simply getting carers to recognise themselves as such”.—[Official Report, Commons, Carer’s Leave Bill Committee, 9/11/22; col. 5.]

The more the Government can do to promote the new right to carer’s leave, the better the outcomes will be.

More and more people are going to need extra personal support as they grow older. Family members will mostly be providing it. We need to encourage those helping provide care to do so without giving up work, because the cost of care to a family would otherwise exceed the level of their income. We need them to stay in employment.

Seven million people are providing unpaid care when in paid work. That is a very large number. The economy needs them to stay in paid work, so this Bill really does matter. I welcome the Bill having completed its passage through the House of Commons without amendment. I hope that it will do likewise in this House and that the regulations are passed as soon as possible.

My Lords, I am pleased to speak in wholehearted support of this Bill. It has been a pleasure to hear other speeches and to receive briefings on this significant area of our common life. I look forward to hearing other speeches and thank those who have introduced the Bill.

The Bill is an important step forward in showing carers that although their efforts may not be waged, they are very much valued. It might not go as far as could be hoped, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has said, in that it provides for unpaid rather than paid leave, but it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

I see three key features of this Bill: first, the provision of leave for anyone with caring responsibilities, not just those who care for people in their household; secondly, guaranteeing this leave as a day one right; and thirdly, allowing for it to be taken flexibly. These three features show that the Bill recognises the variety of unpaid carers on whom society depends and the distinct challenges they face.

I draw your Lordships’ attention to the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. The report, Care and Support Reimagined: A National Care Covenant for England, was published just a few weeks ago. Paid leave for carers and the right to request flexibility from day one of hire were among the commission’s recommendations. That report, like the authors and champions of this Bill, recognises the difficulties of juggling responsibilities to one’s employers and to the people one cares for. When that balancing act becomes unsustainable, millions of people give up work or reduce their hours in order to care for loved ones. If they do so, further financial pressure is added to their load. In return for providing care worth some £132 billion a year, more than a million unpaid carers are living in poverty.

There are psychological and spiritual as well as financial benefits to being able to stay in work. As one of my colleagues, Carolyn, who cares for her son, told me, for many carers including herself, being able to remain in work forms a vital part of their own well-being and positive mental health. Being able to contribute beyond their caring responsibilities is all part of feeling that their lives have purpose, meaning and consequence. This was echoed at a recent gathering of carers, parents and grandparents of children with special educational needs and disabilities which my wife and I hosted at our house. Many spoke of the loneliness of being a carer and the need for wider support networks, which can of course include colleagues at work.

Having the right to a week’s leave will therefore help many unpaid carers to continue working, with the support for their well-being and household finances which that entails. However, it is important to state that we all stand to benefit from their skills, talents and experience remaining in the workforce. The phenomenal costs of recruitment and retention, which have already been mentioned, point to the spiritual truth that no one is a fungible economic unit. I and my diocese would be much poorer without people such as Carolyn—without their compassion, empathy, sensitivity and wisdom. She enriches us not despite her caring experience, but because of it. This Bill should therefore be passed not as an act of pity, but as a recognition of our collective debt and gratitude to one another and our interdependence on one another.

Returning briefly to the Archbishops’ Commission, its report sees paid leave for carers as just one part of a more radical and ambitious vision. The Christian belief is that we are all made in the image of God, that it is not good for any of us to be alone, and that giving and receiving care is fundamental to human flourishing. This wider values-based vision of the commission encourages a revolution in our attitudes to disability and ageing, recognising that every single person is of equal value and dignity and must be treated as such. This vision includes the aim to make social care a universal entitlement, and that this should be person-centred care, designed with people, not imposed on them. At its heart is a call for a national care covenant which sets out the distinct roles and responsibilities not just of government but of all of us as citizens and neighbours.

I commend the archbishops’ report to your Lordships, as it outlines both the fundamental values and the specific steps which could bring a compassionate, inclusive and sustainable care system into being. I invite employers to venture beyond the letter of the Bill and enter into its spirit by giving carers active support, recognition and affirmation, as well as respite. For every workplace would profit immeasurably by learning from those who give themselves fully to the well-being of others.

My Lords, at the outset I take this opportunity to acknowledge the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, who led the earlier debate so magnificently. The ambitions of her Bill were the fundamental objectives of many campaigns, and of a project a number of women set up in Tower Hamlets called the maternity services liaison advocacy scheme. It is a joy to see that the noble Baroness was speaking, and I am sorry I missed the debate. It is also an honour and a personal privilege to be taking part in this debate, and I want to humbly thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his thorough introduction; he need not have worried at all.

Many statistics on unpaid carers are constantly bandied about, but the facts are glaring; indeed, we know that many more carers are not in the public eye or paid for by the public purse. Like many hundreds of thousands of families, we have cared for our loving and beautiful 44 year-old son—a young man who inspires us every day—without a shred of the public care system support which may or may not have been in place. Very early on in our professional and business careers, the decision had to be made that, as parents, one of us would need to stay at home to ensure that our son was safe and cared for.

I can tell your Lordships that even enlightened local authorities were less than pleasant when women, in particular, sought time off for caring responsibilities, which in many instances counted against their career progression. Not much appears to have changed for substantial numbers of carers on zero-hours contracts or for poorly paid part-time workers who are almost certainly unlikely to gain from the proposed Bill. However, I keep hoping that one of these days, our Government’s compassionate and caring conservatism, levelling up and all the other “ism” ambitions will eventually eradicate these horrible, cruel, medieval working conditions in the world’s sixth largest economy. As a society, if we can afford to spend billions on crap PPE and weapons of war, we can also empower with a decent and just wage the army of social carers and family carers who are upholding our nation.

For those in our social welfare system, £69 for 24/7 carer’s allowance, which has increased by only £15 over the last decade, is an insult. I can understand why many families such as ours simply opt out of the system. Many families may not even be aware of these cumbersome systems, or able to navigate them for this miserly amount. It is therefore important that changes are relayed through the NHS and DWP systems to ensure that these entitlements are known to carers.

I welcome these proposals for the carer’s leave entitlement. With hand on heart, I say that they are a long time coming. More than four decades ago, as one of the founders and the manager of a project, I ensured that all members of our all-women staff team had written into their contract their entitlement to childcare and other care responsibilities, including emergency provisions, as the Bill aspires to do. This decision was critical to keep and foster talented and skilled women staff members, many of whom would otherwise have left and given up their employment. Many are still forced to choose, even today, as powerfully advocated by noble Lords during the Second Reading of the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill. I believe that our practice was pioneering in the 1980s and had a transformative impact on local services and statutory and voluntary organisations. Local and national leadership are critical. I believe that most employers will be supportive, given the available statistics: almost every household will face these dilemmas in their home sooner or later.

We are all too familiar with “A week is a long time in politics”. Well, let me say that providing care and support for vulnerable loved ones with special physical or emotional needs is a lifetime of devotion. We must do all we can to prevent it becoming an untold toil. The flexibility and wide-ranging application proposed by the Bill are therefore welcome.

I have a generic point. Regardless of whether there are 10 million or 1 million carers, it would be more comforting if the Government recognised—they must—that family support systems are holding up an otherwise totally broken system of social care. From all the facts, well rehearsed in this Chamber, we see that we are not valuing carers and their real worth enough, in any way. Every family such as ours is still holding up, not only when the formal care systems are broken, to make sure that our vulnerable loved ones live with dignity and independence.

It appears to have become customary to heroise individuals or families as a way of illustrating the impact of our policies and legislation on some service users. The question for me is not about one individual experience or my personal experience, which is painful and lifelong enough. As legislators, we are responsible for making a difference to many more families, communities and those in wider society who so often cannot access benefits or services. Therefore, gender and other equality impact assessments of the Bill are absolutely a must to realise the aspiration behind the deliberation in this Chamber. It has far-reaching implications that can change people’s lives.

I am thankful to the many children’s and other carers’ organisations that have written to me, and I am always beholden to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley who has campaigned for social and economic justice for carers for so long and so relentlessly. I salute her constantly, and very often in this Chamber.

I ask the Minister to write to me with details of how government departments reach out to communities hitherto beyond the reach of many respected national organisations, particularly communities in inner cities and deprived areas. How do government departments relay information on rights to families at the coalface of social and financial isolation? Consistency in our policies should be joined up, and not undermine access to information. For example, government departments are now routinely cutting or shutting down phone lines, instead directing service users to online services on the assumption that everyone has access to a smartphone or a computer. It is not so, and we know the facts about digital exclusion. We also know, and heard throughout the pandemic, of the impact of digital exclusion on the most vulnerable and needy. When they cannot afford food or energy bills, the upkeep of broadband or a computer device is pretty much out of the reach of most of them. We must therefore take the utmost care to undertake an impact analysis of all the legislative and procedural frameworks on carers and other vulnerable groups who suffer disproportionately.

As a community campaigner, I say that there is so much more to discuss, including the cutbacks and desperate shortage in social care, and the lack of respite and adequate day care facilities or holiday provision, all of which are putting huge extra pressures—I will not use the word “burden”—on families already stretched beyond their capacity. We speak of civilised society, and surely the heroic and unrelenting support that carers in their millions provide speaks volumes about our civility and honour. We are already saving the Government hundreds of billions, and none of us should rest here until there is full recognition and parity of employment rights for carers. So with great joy I support these good, small steps.

My Lords, we have had a very good debate on this important Private Member’s Bill, and I thank my noble friend Lord Fox for his excellent introduction. For me, the debate has underlined once again why carers’ lives can be so difficult, despite caring usually being undertaken out of love and deep familial bonds. As we have heard, caring unpaid for a family member, friend or neighbour is a reality for many millions of people across the UK and is something that almost everyone will experience at some point in their life. It can take many forms: it can be day-to-day physical caring, washing, dressing, feeding those who cannot care for themselves; it can be making medical appointments, accompanying people, arranging for paid care; it can be helping a housebound elderly neighbour.

But caring for a loved one can come at high personal costs. Many carers find that their own relationships are negatively affected, and they can face their own health problems as a result of their caring role. With the huge pressures and backlogs across the NHS, with the difficulty all too often of getting appointments with a GP or a hospital, and the record level of demand for social care services at a time when the social care workforce is depleted, many carers are simply not getting the support that they need.

That is essentially what this Bill is designed to address, albeit that we are only at the start of what I hope is a much longer journey. “A vital first step” is how it has been described today. But today’s debate has amply demonstrated how carer’s leave will make a difference to carers’ lives. We have already heard the latest estimates showing that over 7 million people in this country are juggling work and unpaid care, and every year more than 1.9 million people in paid employment become unpaid carers. This is not a sideshow; this is something affecting large segments of the population. We have today heard very movingly the stresses and strains of having to juggle paid work alongside unpaid care, without the support that is so often needed, and how it has left many carers exhausted and burned out.

Unfortunately, as we have heard, these pressures have led to hundreds of thousands of people having to drop out of the labour market or reduce their hours—at a time when their skills are much needed to the wider economy. We know and have heard that having a supportive employer and the ability to take time off work can help mitigate those pressures. Indeed, two-thirds of working carers who have already had access to unpaid carer’s leave through their own employer’s enlightened employment practices have told Carers UK that it really made their caring role easier. I spoke recently to some carers who were juggling working and caring, and I was very struck by what one lady said to me. She said, “I no longer have to hide the fact that I am a carer.” I can well remember feeling that I needed to hide my own personal caring responsibilities when I was in a full-time job, and I would have loved to feel that what I was trying to do was both above board and legitimate. I hope that this legislation will normalise and legitimise those struggling to do both.

I was also very pleased recently, along with my noble friend Lord Fox, to meet some leading employers in this field, large and small, to hear at first hand about their experiences of already providing carer’s leave and the positive impacts that doing so had on their businesses, particularly in terms of staff retention. For this to really work, it must have real benefits to employers and employees. That is the beauty of this Bill, which, by creating a new entitlement for employees to take up to a week of unpaid leave a year, will really help. Yes, it is modest—we all understand that—but it will provide increased flexibility to unpaid carers who are balancing paid employment with their caring responsibilities. I hope above all that, for many more of them, it will mean not having to make that invidious choice between caring and working.

In addition, the Bill will support carers with their finances, particularly in the longer term, and help with pensions. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, reminded us of the number of carers who, because they have to give up their job altogether or reduce their working hours, become significantly worse off. This fall in income is often accompanied by a sharp increase in household costs as a result of the additional costs of ill health and disability. In the middle of a cost of living crisis, that is enough to tip many people over the edge.

Of course, everything comes with a cost, and we need to be up front about that. But I was struck last week when reading some research that suggested that UK companies can save up to £4.8 billion a year in unplanned absences and a further £3.4 billion in improved retention by adopting working practices to support employees with caring responsibilities. It might not be a strict comparison, but it is interesting to note that the impact assessment for the Bill says that the direct costs will be very small—only £4.7 million for one-off familiarisation costs for this new legislation, plus the recurring familiarisation costs. I call that quite a return.

I want to draw attention, as I have in the past, to the impact of unpaid caring on women and those caring for children with long-term disabilities. The Bill would particularly support women to stay in work, as they are more likely to be juggling work and care and more likely to be in part-time than full-time work. Carers UK research has shown that, while the average person has a 50:50 chance of caring by the age of 50, on average women can expect to take on caring responsibilities more than a decade earlier than men. Likewise, the Family Resources Survey shows that women aged 45 to 64 are most likely to be carers and more likely than men to provide informal care across all age groups, except for those aged 85 and over. It is welcome that the impact assessment produced for the Bill recognises:

“In the context of the gender pay gap, the fact that women are more likely to provide care means that they are more likely to face adverse employment effects associated with caring i.e., lower earnings and leaving the labour market.”

It is welcome that the Bill also provides much-needed support for those who are juggling work with caring for a child with a long-term disability. People in this situation often face extreme pressures and challenges, and it is right that they should be able to take advantage of the provisions in this Bill, building on the rights that they already have under unpaid parental leave.

Finally, it is instructive to see how other countries provide support to employees trying to juggle work and care. In preparing for this debate, I did a bit of research. The fact is that the UK currently lags behind other countries when it comes to workplace rights for carers. Many already have some form of carer’s leave in place—of course, it differs—including Japan, Canada, the USA, Germany, Ireland, France, Belgium and Sweden. So I think it is right that we are looking to close this gap. Indeed, there are some interesting and innovative approaches to family leave and carer’s leave adopted in other countries that we would do well to study—a point I know the Minister made in the previous debate.

To conclude, I am delighted that after many years of trying, we finally have an opportunity to ensure that carers are better supported to remain in work by providing them with additional rights at work to make their lives more flexible and manageable. It is a cause that I, like so many others in this Chamber, have long championed. I do not pretend to have anything like the pedigree of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude. However, as she mentioned, I have tried several times—most recently in 2016—to introduce a carer’s leave entitlement Bill. Sadly, as is the way of these things, it never received a Second Reading. So one of my messages today is to never give up hope. An opportunity may well come along, sometimes when you least expect it. I give huge thanks to my honourable friend Wendy Chamberlain, and of course to Carers UK for everything it has done. I very much hope that this time we can get these vital employment rights for carers on to the statute book, which is why I am giving my noble friend’s Bill my full support.

I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for sponsoring the Bill before us today on this important matter, and indeed his colleague Wendy Chamberlain MP in the other place for initially sponsoring it. I note the cross-party support in the other place, as has been mentioned today, and I hope we can move forward in the same spirit. I also add my thanks for all the different briefing papers we have received—from Carers UK, for example, and the MS Society.

I particularly pick up on the reference the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester made to the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. I, too, recommend it to those who have not had a chance to look at its recommendations. It was my great privilege to work closely with Anna Dixon in her former role at the Centre for Ageing Better when I was the leader of Leeds City Council. So many of the pieces of work we did there have informed my views on how we need to move forward on this issue.

I also pay tribute to the other speakers in the debate for their passion and obvious long-term commitment to this agenda and for standing up for the most deserving in our society—all those unsung heroes who do so much to support their loved ones. Indeed, as we have heard today, many noble Lords have personal, as well as professional, experience of these matters; I note the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. These are incredibly important insights that we need to use to inform our discussions and policies as we take them forward. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley and thank her for her inspirational speech, and I acknowledge her wealth of experience in these matters.

We fully support the Bill, although we believe that carer’s leave should be paid. We have to ask why it has taken the Government so long to introduce legislation, therefore necessitating its introduction by Private Member’s Bill. We remain disappointed that the promised employment Bill has not materialised. However, we acknowledge that this is a significant moment to take a step in the right direction, and we believe we should seize the moment. It is also worth noting that, under the proposals set out in Labour’s New Deal for Working People, the next Labour Government will legislate to ensure that working people can respond to family emergencies as and when they arise, without being left out of pocket.

As so many have said, unpaid carers are among the many unrecognised stars of the health and care sector. They step in to support friends and family with care so that those people can retain some of their independence and dignity. We need to emphasise, particularly with International Women’s Day approaching next week, how important it is to point out that, tragically, the highest proportion of unpaid carers are women. The highest proportion fall in the 50 to 59 age group, where a staggering one in five women are estimated to be carers. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there are 350,000 more people over 50 who are economically inactive, with health cited as the largest single reason but caring and family responsibilities coming second.

Carers UK has stated that granting unpaid carers the right to carer’s leave would improve the finances of carers who would no longer have to reduce their working hours or give up work altogether. I think we all took on board the points outlined by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley about the impact on mental health and, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned, the impact of loneliness.

The scale of the issue is huge. We have heard many figures today. Carers UK estimates that there are 7 million people in paid work who also provide unpaid care. Every year an estimated 1.9 million people in work become carers, and there is evidence of many using up their holiday entitlement to provide cover as needed. An estimated one in seven juggle work and care, with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation stating that over 1 million carers are living in poverty, feeling “abandoned by society”.

In the 2017 to 2019 parliamentary Session, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee held an inquiry on employment support for carers. Its May 2018 report, Employment Support for Carers, stated:

“Balancing care with paid employment is a tricky juggling act”—

I think that is putting it mildly—which, as we have heard, causes many carers to either give up work or reduce their hours. It said that this was costly to the individual, who can lose financial security and may need to recruit a replacement. In addition, it found that there was an economic cost as

“productivity, and ultimately tax revenues, suffer from people who want to work, or work more, being avoidably unable to do so”.

Putting my business and trade hat on, I will say, like the noble Lord, Lord Fox, that the impact on the economy is profound and needs to be taken into account by the Government, particularly by the Treasury. I will not repeat the figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, quoted, but they are stark and significant. Indeed, our Adult Social Care Committee estimated in its excellent report a loss to the Exchequer of £2.9 billion in carer’s benefits and lost tax revenues.

We welcome the broad definition of reasons for needing carer’s leave and the fact that the definition of “dependant” is also broadly drawn. These definitions are often misunderstood, and further clarity is indeed welcome.

I particularly welcome the reference to young carers made by the noble Lord, Lord Young. He raised the links to deprivation and that awful tendency of those in this category to suffer in silence and not to come forward and claim any support that might be available to them. 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, the situation is simply unacceptable. Through this process, the ability to raise the profile of the issues is very important.

I feel that it is impossible to talk in this debate without referencing the urgent need to tackle the crisis of social care in this country—across all age groups, those caring for both children and adults with disabilities, respite need and home care, as well as in the residential sector. It would be very helpful in this debate to have an update on progress in this area.

I very much look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope that, in line with other contributors’ support today, we will hear that the Government support this important Bill’s passage so that we can start to move forward on the journey to give carers support and to continue to increase awareness for those who so desperately need, and richly deserve, our support.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for introducing this debate. It was a highly eloquent, extremely thoughtful, very technical and, frankly, quite moving introduction to what I think we all agree is a most essential Bill. I also thank Wendy Chamberlain for initiating this process in the other place and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, who clearly has been an inspiration to many in this House. She is an inspiration to me and has helped drive this agenda for many years. I hope that the noble Baroness feels a sense of satisfaction as she sits here participating in this debate, where we can now as a group “do something about it”, as they say. I personally appreciate the enormous support the noble Baroness has given to this process.

I would like to cover three specific areas in terms of why the Government are so keen to support the Bill. First, this is good for business. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, covered this from her expertise in her trade and economy role. Many other noble Lords also focused on this important point. We cannot afford for so many individuals to leave the workforce if we can possibly avoid it. I will talk about the moral case for that in a moment, but purely commercially, it does not make sense. It is an economic disaster that people are forced to leave employment in order to care. The figure quoted, of £2.9 billion, seems to me to understate the cost to the economy of this situation. Coming at this from a relatively dry economic standpoint, as someone who is not a proponent, fundamentally, of excessive regulation or additional burdens on businesses, I believe this is absolutely the opposite. It is an essential lubrication to the opportunity for businesses to prosper and for more people to come back into the workforce. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, wisely said, it will allow us to raise the profile of carers. It will allow people to better understand the business case for being able to combine work and caring. It will also help businesses understand the importance of retaining their staff and engendering good relations with their employees. I am absolutely convinced, as are the Government, that the business case for this Bill is paramount and incontrovertible.

Secondly, the Bill reflects the relevant role that carers play in our society. I was appalled to hear of some of the costs that the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, mentioned, of between £10,000 and £20,000, the well-established losses to pension contributions, and the poverty levels in which many carers find themselves on account of having to give up work to do the right thing.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester raised a number of issues which have confluence with these points. I have not read the report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. I would be grateful if he would be kind enough to make a copy available to me, and I will certainly invest some time in it.

Other noble Lords raised the issue of the economic cost to carers, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Blake and Lady Tyler. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, had to hide her caring responsibilities from her employer. My noble friend Lord Young asked whether employers are obliged to keep a register of carers in their companies. They will be obliged to record people who say they are carers—clearly the process to obtain the unpaid leave will necessitate that type of information—but they are not obliged to undertake a survey of their staff. I do not believe it is a requirement for registration when you join a firm. I think this initial stage is probably satisfactory, but it is certainly something that should be kept under review.

We hope this legislation will start to change the attitudes of businesses and individuals so that we can be proud to be carers, and businesses can be proud to have carers in their businesses and to support them in an appropriate way, as they would those in other occupations, such as the Territorial Army or whatever it may be, who have important work to do and whom they want to retain. This is a very relevant incentive—not that I am comparing those two roles, but I hope noble Lords understand what I am trying to imply.

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, made important points that I would like to address relating to making sure that the profile and value of carers is appropriately raised. Their importance to society must not be understated. For me, this Government and, I am sure, all of us in this House, it is better that we have an effective voluntary care system for dependants from loved ones, friends, neighbours and relations as a principle in how we structure our society and community. We believe firmly in that, so any measures that enable this type of society—a society of people bound together through love—is more powerful than any state support that could be provided to an individual, so I emphasise to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, my support for her remarks.

I am also very aware of the noble Baroness’s comments around signposting entitlements to carers. It is important that we have a variety of different signpost mechanisms. They are, on the whole, the traditional mechanisms of websites, through ACAS and the tribunal system and similar government information portals, but I am not unaware of the need to raise the profile of this principle. I hope that debates such as this and the work of noble Lords will ensure we can continue to do this.

I am also aware of the issue around minority information portals. The Government are very committed to ensuring that all language communities are fully covered, but if there is anything that I can do personally to magnify this situation to any specific community, I would be keen to hear. This is ongoing work. I am sure all input will be well received. I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, asked me to write to her with specific details. I will be delighted to do so, and that may instigate further debate.

I hope I have covered everyone’s specific points. I express my gratitude to all sides of the House for the moving and powerful way that we have come together to very clearly put all our support behind something that is very straightforward, easy to administer, essential for our economy, right for the moral fibre of our nation in terms of keeping carers in work, and will benefit society fundamentally in the long term as well as raising the profile of this issue so that we can be proud to be carers and workers.

I turn now to some of the specifics that it would be useful to have on record. The Bill will create a highly flexible new leave right with low administration requirements. It will be available from the first day of employment, so people will be able to take their one-week entitlement in blocks as small as half a day or, indeed, for the full week. Both “dependant” and “long-term care need” are defined in the Bill, as has been raised. This is important, and these definitions are very broad, as has been welcomed. This ensures that leave is available for the widest possible range of long-term caring scenarios.

The Bill also keeps the administration process as light as possible. It is our intention that the associated regulations will state that an employer cannot demand that an employee present documentation in support of a leave request. I think we all agree that that is a relevant point. It is not for people to justify their actions; that raises even higher hurdles and barriers around the situation we are discussing. This helps the employee, who may not wish to divulge details of the health and well-being of their relative or friend. It also helps the employer, frankly, as it will relieve them of the responsibility of storing and managing that data effectively.

In conclusion, the Government are pleased to support this Private Member’s Bill and deliver our manifesto commitment. I thank again the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for bringing the Bill before us today, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, for her endeavour and her journey to where we stand now. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. Many have spoken passionately about their personal experience of caring for loved ones. I hope that in future, for many unpaid carers, this new leave right will make it that little bit easier to balance their work and caring commitments, and that their lives will be a little bit better for that. This is why I want to see the Bill succeed. We have an opportunity here today to make a real difference to the lives of those who seek to rely upon carer’s leave in the future.

My Lords, I join the Minister in thanking noble Lords for their contributions today. When I saw the speakers’ list, I suspected that we would have a good debate, but it has exceeded those expectations. I think it has been a wonderful debate and I understand that even the Deputy Speaker refused to leave the Woolsack in order to be able to hear the end of it. I start by specifically thanking the Minister: the care and the detail with which he replied to the debate is a very good sign, and I am really delighted by that. I am afraid I will have to pull him up on one thing. He suggested that the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, might be satisfied: I can warn him, from what little I know of the noble Baroness, that she will be at his door tomorrow with the next requirement.

I would like to pick a few of the bones out of this debate, because it has brought together a wide variety of issues. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for bringing up the issue of young carers and young adult carers, because I failed to bring it forward, and I am delighted that he was able to do it. He also talked about workplaces being aware of how many carers they have. My noble friend Lord Shipley pointed out that there are an awful lot of hidden carers within the workforce. Even those businesses that have very well-defined carer systems, carer passports and whatever else do not unearth all the carers they have, so there is an awful lot of work to do, both at a governmental and societal level and at a granular level in businesses, particularly in small and medium businesses where they do not have the HR processes and the systems or the people to do this work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said a lot of interesting things, but I will pick out her point about trying to remove the guilt from this process—the guilt of the employee having to go and ask, cap in hand, for time to do a very important task for the person for whom they care. By putting that into a process, we start removing that guilt. My noble friend Lord Shipley mentioned the ageing population, and this is crucial. The demographic, as it goes forward, is going to drive the need for care, year on year, to an even higher level than we see today.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his contribution. He talked about valuing carers, and so many carers in the current situation do not feel valued by people around them. He talked about dignity, and I think part of what we are trying to do is create an element of dignity. The right reverend Prelate also talked about interdependence, with so many, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said, feeling lonely. These are key issues. This was picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who talked about her own personal experience, which was quite moving, as well as the wider issue about how this is a real challenge in the harder-to-reach communities in our society, and I thank her for her delivery. My noble friend Lady Tyler talked about not having to make the choice between caring and working, not having to walk out of your work because you cannot manage the process of day-to-day life.

I am now going to do what most Ministers seem to do, which is shuffle a few pieces of paper. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and everybody else for their support, but I did have some trepidation that one of your Lordships was going to come up, not necessarily with an excoriating review of what we had here but with a whole catalogue full of massive improvements. We all know there is more to be done, and I am sure, as I have just said, there will be lots of people wanting to suggest what that should be. But the sense I got from the Chamber is that there are not going to be lots of amendments coming forward, because the way we get this Bill through quickly, or indeed get it through at all, is without amendments—by accepting what we have and moving on. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, for her, I think, cry of: “Forwards. Let us seize the moment”. I ask your Lordships to join with us, with the Minister and me, to seize that moment, and I invite noble Lords to support a Second Reading of the Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 2.03 pm.