Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on ensuring that his Bill has gone through its remaining stages and now passes to the other place—I hope to feel the same sense of achievement shortly. I am conscious that some in the Chamber today who are looking to speak will have personal experience of caring for a relative or other dependant, and I am very grateful for their participation in today’s debate. With the leave of the House, I will save my other thanks for later on, but the number of Members who have spoken out about their experiences during the course of the Bill’s progress has brought to life how widespread caring is for so many, both in this House and outwith. It is wonderful that following Second Reading and Committee, we have time to debate this important issue again today.
Statistics from the 2020-21 family resources survey show that approximately 4.2 million people across the UK are providing unpaid care by looking after an elderly or disabled family member or another dependant, and that the majority of those individuals are women aged over 50. In the previous debate, there was much conversation about how we get people back into the workplace; we know that the Government have a particular focus on those aged over 50, so I am very hopeful that they will continue to support my Bill, because I believe it will help towards that goal.
The reality is that becoming a carer is something that can happen to any one of us. Caring is a reality for many millions of people across the UK. It can take many forms: it can be day-to-day physical caring, washing, dressing and feeding for those who cannot care for themselves; it can be making medical appointments or arranging for paid care; it can even just be doing the shopping for a housebound elderly neighbour. Caring or being cared for is something that almost everyone will experience at some point in their life.
However, sadly, Carers UK research found in 2021 that 37% of working carers said that they needed unpaid carer’s leave in order to manage working and caring, and a further one in seven said that without carer’s leave, they would have to reduce their working hours or give up work altogether. Those statistics become even starker when we talk to carers of those with more debilitating conditions, such as multiple sclerosis. The preliminary findings of a recent survey of unpaid carers by the MS Society found that 13% of respondents had given up working and 20% had taken early retirement due to their caring responsibilities. Over two thirds said that their work had been impacted due to the help they provided to their loved one with MS.
My own experience, going out to my constituents to see if I could find people who would benefit from this legislation, brings those statistics to life. So many carers in North East Fife got in touch with me to say that they had already given up work because of their caring responsibilities. I very much hope that the Bill will help encourage some of those people to find a way back to work, and therefore make a contribution to the economy as well as providing that vital care.
The new employment rights in the Bill are vital at a time when the Government are trying to get people, especially the over-50s, back to work. I firmly believe that they will also help businesses, many of which are already under significant financial strain without the costs of staff turnover and continued recruitment. The successful passage of the Bill will be a significant milestone: carer’s leave will provide increased flexibility to unpaid carers who are balancing paid employment with their caring responsibilities. It will enable them to take some time out of work if required, which will support them to stay in work because, vitally, they will not have to choose between caring and working.
The Bill creates a new entitlement for employees to take up to a week of unpaid leave a year in order to provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need. I certainly hope that, for example, things such as regular hospital appointments—those planned things that carers know are potentially going to happen—can be made easier by the provisions in the Bill.
All employees who meet the eligibility conditions will be entitled to that unpaid leave, regardless of how long they have worked for their employer. That means that the entitlement will be available to eligible employees from the first day of their employment, which is critical in overcoming the hurdles that carers experience when re-entering the workplace, or even when changing jobs—that was talked about in the previous debate by, I think, the hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra). I was a police officer, and when I joined the police at the age of 22, I firmly expected to spend 30 years in the police service, but that is not how it has worked out. Portfolio careers—people moving between jobs—are increasingly becoming a feature of everyday working life. The Bill will help support that, because people will know that they can take its provisions into different jobs.
The leave will be available to take flexibly, in half-day increments. Importantly for employers and employees, there will be no requirement to provide evidence in relation to a request for carer’s leave. That will make it easier for carers to take the leave and also benefit employers, as they will not have to deal with potential data protection issues, such as holding third-party medical details. Having worked in human resources, I know that will also help with the psychological contract, because if employees feel that their employers trust them in relation to taking the leave, that will help build up the good relationships that are so important in the workplace.
Employees taking carer’s leave will have the same employment protections associated with other forms of family-related leave. That includes protection from dismissal or detriment as a result of having taken the leave. Bringing carer’s leave together with those other forms of leave and making employment protections consistent makes it easier for businesses to administer and for employees to understand.
Importantly, the rights will be available to carers who do all types of caring for different sorts of people. The definition is simple: they must be managing the care of a dependent who requires long-term care. The Bill does not use the usual narrow definition of “dependent” and includes anyone who may
“reasonably rely on the employee to provide or arrange care”.
That could be care for a spouse, civil partner, child or parent—my husband is a carer for his own mother—but it could also be care for someone who lives in the same household as the employee, such as a tenant or a lodger, or even a next-door neighbour or an elderly couple down the road. One of the positives of covid—I always hesitate to use the word “positive” about covid—was the community spirit it engendered, and the help people gave to others in their communities; the Bill encourages that spirit. Such a broad definition will ensure that a highly diverse range of caring relationships are in the scope of the leave entitlements.
The definition of “long-term care need” is also broad. It includes disability, but it also encompasses a person with
“an illness or injury (whether physical or mental) that requires, or is likely to require, care for more than three months”.
In addition, it includes a person requiring care for any reason connected with old age, so the definition is all encompassing.
I firmly believe that carer’s leave is a right that has to work for businesses as well as for carers, for employers as well as for employees. While the leave is designed to be flexible and to fit around the day-to-day lives of carers, employees still need to give reasonable notice. The notice requirements broadly follow those for taking annual leave, so again they are easy to understand from both sides.
Carer’s leave is a right to have, rather than a right to request. However, the Bill recognises that there may be circumstances when granting leave will be difficult, so an employer will be able to postpone but not deny the leave. That allows the space for employers and employees to come to arrangements that work best for both parties.
Over recent months, I have had the privilege of meeting some businesses that already have carer’s leave in place, in order to learn how carer’s leave works for them. I have learned that being carer friendly is not only not a detriment to businesses, but actually helps them. Employees who feel supported are more motivated and loyal. The cost savings on recruitment and additional productivity easily counterbalance any minor administration costs. On Twitter this morning, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said it supports the Bill. I am a former associate member of that institute, but it is telling that the main body for HR in the UK recognises that the Bill is good for business and for its members. That tells us that the Bill is taking the right steps.
Many other hon. Members have also met with companies that are in favour of carer’s leave, as I found out at the drop-in I sponsored last week. I thank the representatives of TSB and Centrica, who came to Parliament, for giving up their time to share their experiences with us. Carers UK runs an effective employers group and it is good to hear those positive stories.
Every experience of caring is unique. Without statutory employment rights, everyone’s experience of dealing with their employer will differ. Some employers will be excellent in their support, others indifferent and many more somewhere in between. The Bill will benefit everyone, no matter where they are on that scale.
One key thing that came across in speaking to constituents and others who are carers was the in-built guilt they have as a carer. On the one hand, they feel guilty because they cannot give the care they want to give to their loved one or dependent. On the other hand, they feel guilt dealing with their employer to ask for time off, potentially unpaid, and feeling they are not making a full contribution. Hopefully, the Bill will help to mitigate some of that.
One such constituent was Judith, who I spoke with last week to hear about her experience of caring and what the Bill would mean for her. She is currently working four days a week, hoping to move to three days, and is in positive conversations with her employer. She is responsible for her elderly father who, having had a tumour removed last year, has had more and more frequent hospital trips for treatment arising from that. His most recent visit lasted over a week and has left him very disorientated since he came out of hospital. Judith feels lucky in that she has been able to take unpaid leave from work, but she does feel that guilt I referenced and feels worried that the good will of her employer will not last for ever.
As I mentioned earlier, carer’s leave as a right to have, not a right to request, should help—that is the key thing here. Judith does not yet have it as a right to have. The Bill will give her that, take away the guilt of asking work for time off and remove the worry of what might happen next. The reality is that the situation will only get more difficult for Judith and her family. Indeed, her brother has made the decision to give up work and rely on his pension. That is a very noble thing to do, and within the family they are all sharing the load, but it demonstrates, on trying to keep people in the workplace, that we have much more still to do to help enable people to continue to do both work and caring.
I have heard from employers who believe that this new employment right will be the catalyst for starting conversations about caring. Even within carer- friendly organisations, getting people to talk about their responsibilities, or simply to even recognise themselves as carers, can be a challenge. This new employment right makes caring as ordinary a part of working life as taking a sick day with covid or maternity leave after a baby. It will be a huge shift in how we understand carers. I have previously mentioned that the largest employer in my constituency, the University of St Andrews, has very good policies in place, but it recognised, when looking at the Bill, that it did not necessarily bring them all together properly. What happened was that people were coming to their line manager when they hit a crisis point, as opposed to engaging at an earlier stage to get the support they needed that meant their family did not hit that crisis point.
At the other end of the spectrum, for carers whose employers do not have any policies in place to support them, the new law will be a vital first step, both in the actual leave they can take and in feeling seen and supported in work. The multiple sclerosis survey I referenced earlier found that of carers who are currently employed, only 5.2% had been offered advice or support to help them stay in work. That is simply atrocious, and I hope the Bill will spark those conversations. Importantly, although carer’s leave entering law will feel like an end, it is also a start.
There is still so much more we can do to support unpaid carers. In the long run, I hope most companies will offer paid carer’s leave and that we may even get a statutory entitlement to such. We must fund day centres and reform carer’s allowance, so that carers can potentially earn more before that allowance drops off. As I said to the Prime Minister before Christmas, the caring never stops.
We can also do so much more to help carers into work through training and support. With the Carers Trust, I visited Camden Carers last week to learn about a project called Working for Carers, which is focused specifically on getting carers who have left the workplace because of their caring responsibilities back into the workplace. I met two participants, one of whom, Nicola, as a result of the help she had received, was setting up her own business, while the other, Amanda, was returning to work in education as a classroom assistant. It is proof that in the right conditions carers can work and be highly valuable to our economy.
This is an incredible day to see the Bill through its final Commons stages. I have had lots of “Well done, Wendy”, but I am very conscious that getting this opportunity starts with a number being drawn out of a big glass bowl. So there is a degree of luck, but I firmly believe it is what we do with that luck afterwards that is important. I very much hope the Minister will rise to confirm the Government’s continued support for the Bill. As anyone who has brought a private Member’s Bill will know, there is a certain level of anxiety in seeing your Bill go off to the other place without you, but I am confident that my colleague Lord Fox of Leominster will be an excellent guardian of the Bill and I thank him for taking it on. I will leave it there, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I hope to speak again later, with the leave of the House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on not only her luck in having her name drawn out of the hat, but the drafting and presentation of the Bill, which I am delighted to support.
More than 4 million people in this country are unpaid carers for loved ones, and most of them are women over the age of 50. They are very common to us all as constituency MPs. I can think of several people who have been in touch with me about not only the challenges they face in getting support, but the just challenges of what it means to be an unpaid carer. We can all do everything that we can as legislators to ensure that the support for them is better than it is and that the process, particularly for applying for help, is smoother, but the reality is that, as the hon. Lady said, they work all the hours there are. Ultimately, they are dependent on themselves, their friends and family and their support networks. I honour them for everything that they do. In a sense, they are the backbone of our country and our communities and the foundation of our national life. In the words of Queen, they “make the rockin’ world go round” and I honour them for that—[Interruption.] I did not quote the whole lyric. [Laughter.]
The Bill is welcome and I am pleased that the Government support it. Of course, we made a commitment in our manifesto and there were plans in 2019 to introduce a Bill along these lines. It is shame that it has taken this long to get here, but I am pleased that we are supporting it. The fact is that many employers extend these sorts of flexibilities to their staff anyway, because they are good people. I was struck by what the Minister said in response to the previous debate about the importance that employers such as him place on their reputation. Their primary reputation is based on what their staff—the people who work with them and know them best as employers—say about them. That reputation matters hugely, so it is no surprise that we all come across employers who do the right thing and are flexible with and sympathetic to their staff with caring responsibilities. As the Minister and the hon. Lady said, it helps the business to be a good employer in this way. It is not all about selfless action on the behalf of employers—even Yorkshire employers.
I am particularly struck by the provision, supported by the Government, for carer’s leave to be a day-one right. That is essential and reflects the fact that this is an important principle: it is something that is not earned through length of service but extended to an employee on day one. The value is not just for the employee but for the company, because it will help so much with recruitment in our very tight labour market. With all the social challenges that exist in our society, there are huge numbers of people who would like to work but for whom their caring responsibility comes first. For them to know that they will have the flexibility that the Bill gives them from day one is an enormous incentive for them to apply and take a job that is offered. It is, then, absolutely right for employers and the economy that we make this change.
That said, we obviously need to be careful. I look forward to seeing what the Government do in the drafting of the regulations that will bring this change into force. As I understand it, the regulations will determine how long the right to carer’s leave will be. It will be at least a week, but it could be longer, and I could totally support that, because in many cases it will need to be much longer than that. It probably should not be 365 days a year, because we do have to worry about people who take the mickey.
That leads me to my next point, which is that we currently have significant problems in our labour force and labour market. Too many people are not getting into work, and although I very much hope that this Bill will help to address that challenge, we do need further reform to our welfare system. I am not satisfied by the rate of success that we get out of our welfare system. Sadly, for all the great work done by many jobcentres and many of the civil society organisations that support them, the success rate of transforming an unemployed person into an employed person nevertheless remains too slow. We have to make work pay, and the Government are rightly prioritising a number of reforms and changes that need to happen to enable that. We need a higher-wage economy in which work pays better than welfare. We need to strengthen the conditionality around certain benefits to ensure that people understand that benefits are dependent on them looking for work and taking work when it is offered. We also need greater flexibility in the arrangements that people have in their employment.
I will end with a general point, to which the Bill speaks very well. My concern about our whole economic model and the way in which we conceive of work is that we have a very individualistic attitude to what we are as a worker. We think that work and life are separate spheres and that when we are an employee—a worker—our private life has no bearing on our work. In a sense, we can understand that. People need to leave their home life behind when they come to work; we all have to do that in our jobs. We need to be a professional. However, it is not fair to say that people have these entirely separate spheres.
As the hon. Lady emphasised in her speech, people increasingly live a portfolio life. Life changes for all of us; things happen. It is right that the system recognises that, for all that we have to be a professional, for all that we should be seen as a responsible, accountable and autonomous individual, we have overlapping responsibilities in our lives of which the system should take note. Principally, that means that people need to understand the challenges that we have around time, and the obligations that may occasionally intrude on the time we can give to our employment.
I applaud the provision that the hon. Lady hopes will be in the regulations, which is to extend the rights to people who have responsibilities to their neighbours—obligations and relationships outside the home. I think that that is absolutely right. She mentioned the great benefit of covid. We should acknowledge that good things happened as a result of the lockdown, which was the way that neighbourhoods were strengthened and obligations to people who we might not have known well before suddenly became real. We need to recover and retain some of that spirit and neighbourliness, and the Bill might help with that.
Best of all is the support that the Bill gives to family life. We need to recognise families and the obligations that we have to our relations, our children, and our elderly dependants much more in the general system of regulation. I recognise that, through the benefit reform, which the Conservative-led Government over the past 10 years introduced, universal credit now properly recognises family obligations in the benefit system. The next stage is to recognise family obligations in the tax system, which, at the moment, remains much too individualistic and disregards the obligations that people have.
Almost every other comparable country—European and north American—recognises family obligations in the tax system. Uniquely, the UK does not. The result is that people with young children or with adult dependants are penalised through the tax system in a way that in other countries they are supported, and, fundamentally, that is what we need to change. I honour the hon. Lady’s Bill and very much look forward to supporting it.
I rise to commend this excellent Bill. It is what I would call a no-brainer —an easy win. I will, if I may, make two quick points about the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). First, it must be a great thing to have a private Member’s Bill that is being adopted by the incumbent Government. That is great. The Bill is so good that we have taken it as our own, and I thank her so much for that.
More broadly, I wish to commend her—and perhaps to embarrass her—for the very objective way that she engages with the House, particularly with the veterans’ community and the all-party parliamentary group on veterans on which we serve. It is really great when the House comes together for this particular purpose. Fridays are always good for that. This is a really good Bill to get behind and support for the reasons that have been outlined.
I wish to make two points on the Bill itself. First, we know that it creates an entitlement for employees to be absent from work on unpaid leave to provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need. That is great. What I also like is that it will take its place in that suite of other protections that we have in law including: maternity; paternity; adoption; parental bereavement; and shared parental and parental leave. That is indicative of a Government who care. We are endorsing this Bill and have taken it as our own, with full credit to the hon. Member for North East Fife. The Bill also includes protection from dismissal or detriment because of having taken the leave, and it is good that that can be applied retrospectively if an employee has particular difficulty with an employer. That is a good thing.
I am very privileged to serve Bracknell. Bracknell Forest is a great place to work, live and play, and it has brilliant people. I am constantly meeting people in the constituency who care for others. I want to plug what we have locally. In 2021, 4.2% of Bracknell Forest residents reported providing up to 19 hours of unpaid care each week. We ignore these fantastic people—these heroes—at our peril. All of us are looking after somebody all the time, and it is amazing that we can provide a bit of extra assistance in law through this Bill.
I meet people in the Lexicon, in Bracknell town centre and on my travels, and I am blown away by the charity sector and the sense of community in Bracknell. It is completely unsurpassed by anywhere else I have been, and I am an old boy now, so I have been around a bit. Bracknell is a brilliant place with great people, and I thank everyone in Bracknell who is providing this care for others; it is so important.
I want to mention a couple of caveats with regard to the Bill. The hon. Member for North East Fife said that sufficient notice has to be given to employers. Actually, I would like to see a provision in the Bill that allows a carer to not be in the workplace at short notice if an unforeseen event takes place. It is difficult, because employers have to be given notice, but perhaps we could write further flexibility into the Bill so that, instead of these slots being bolted on to annual leave, they could be taken on an ad hoc basis. It equates to five full days or 10 half-days in one year. Why could we not write it into the Bill that, if something happens at short notice, the employee would be covered in law for half a day or a day at a time?
We cannot write a blank cheque for who the Bill applies to. We need to make sure that it relates to support for a nominated individual or individuals; it cannot just be a person living down the road or a neighbour. I want to see a bit more protection for employers in the Bill, so that the package of support is for named individuals who need that support.
Employment protections such as this will mean that more people who are carers can go back to the workplace. If they have this flexibility and extra support, they will go back into the workplace and want to be at work, because they know they can get away if they have to provide care for somebody. It will boost the UK economy. Our ageing population needs more support, and ultimately, this will mean that people who are caring for perhaps a parent or parents have the flexibility they need.
It is important that we do everything possible to entice people back into the workplace, and this support might help. We have 1.5 million job vacancies across the UK, and fewer people are in the workplace than were before the pandemic. In my constituency and in the south-east more broadly, we have so many job vacancies—employers are crying out for staff. It may be that, with this extra provision in law, people will be encouraged to go back into the workplace even if they are caring for other people. It is a no-brainer. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife. Let us support the Bill.
I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for bringing the Bill back to the House for its remaining stages. In Blackpool, over 16,000 people provide unpaid care to somebody else. As a consequence of our ageing population, more and more people are now acting as carers for a loved one. That obviously puts pressure on hard-working families, many of whom struggle with balancing their work commitments and other obligations with providing that care. Indeed, according to figures from Carers UK, one in seven people in the UK are finding it difficult at present to juggle work and care responsibilities.
The most significant aspect of the Bill is enabling those with elderly or disabled loved ones to take time away from work when unforeseen circumstances arise that necessitate them stepping in and providing that care. Many constituents have told me of the frustration they often feel when the local authority or the NHS care provider cancels existing arrangements at quite short notice. Such a situation leaves families frantically attempting to find alternative care or face the repercussions of not attending work. This Bill, among other things, helps to address that situation. It would mitigate the anxiety for those receiving care and for their families.
As the time off would be without reimbursement, it would leave employers at a minimal disadvantage. It is for those reasons that I believe that the Bill strikes a reasonable compromise to both employers and employees. Proposed new section 80J in part 5 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 recommends that such leave should not be taken continuously. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the section and consider how to mitigate the risks of employees potentially abusing the goodwill of their employers by taking large amounts of unexpected leave for any reason. I look forward to his comments when he sums up.
The Bill is a positive step forward to support carers and to allow them to juggle their responsibilities, allowing them to stay in the workplace but also provide care, which relieves the pressure on stakeholders such as the NHS and local authorities. But it will also have an impact on businesses, particularly small businesses that may operate only with a few members staff at any one time and may find it difficult to bring in other staff to cover a leave of absence, especially at short notice.
During the passage of the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill, the Minister mentioned his own experience from business, saying that a business’s reputation is not only how it treats its customers but how it treats its staff. I think that is very much the case. Although I am sure that the vast majority of businesses would stand by their staff and make sure that they can balance their respective work, personal and care responsibilities, there could be a small minority of people who try to take advantage of those arrangements. We have to appreciate the additional costs that the Bill could entail to businesses, while bringing in positive steps to make sure that carers have the flexibility to look after their loved ones.
In our 2019 manifesto, this Government promised that they would
“extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, to one week.”
The Queen’s Speech in December 2019 set out about how we would fulfil that important manifesto commitment. A subsequent consultation was launched on 16 March 2020, which sought views on the Government’s proposals for an entitlement to carers leave. Responses to that consultation were published 18 months later.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that they extend workers’ rights—we have just seen that in their support for the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill and, once again, in their support for this Bill. In his comments on that Bill, the Minister alluded to the fact that it is often this party that advances workers’ rights. We have a long and proud history of doing that. Despite some of the ridiculous comments from the commentariat and Members in this House, not least on Monday during the passage of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, once again it is this Government who lead the way on protecting working people and ensuring that they have rights at work, while delivering economic growth. That is why I am proud to support not only this Bill but this Government.
It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton). I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on her excellent and comprehensive speech in which she covered a huge range of issues. It is great to see the second Bill in a row that is doing more for women and has women particularly in mind, because they will benefit predominantly from the hon. Lady’s Bill. As has been said, approximately 4.2 million people across the UK are providing unpaid care at the moment. More than half of those carers are providing that care alongside their job, so there clearly is a huge number of people who are not working and who will not be impacted by this legislation, but we should always keep them in mind. This is going to be a hugely important Bill for those working who can only use annual leave or other forms of leave to help with caring responsibilities. I think it will be life-changing for them, and it also recognises what they are doing.
“Long-term care need” is defined as including any illness or injury likely to require at least three months of care, any disability under the Equality Act 2010 or any reasons connected with old age. I looked up the list of conditions that are described as disability under the Equality Act 2010, and I think they would come as a surprise to many people who are caring just because it is part of their life and it is their family situation and experience. They probably do not even know that the conditions those they are caring for have would qualify. The list includes sensory impairments, such as with sight and hearing, rheumatoid arthritis, ME, chronic fatigue syndrome, progressive conditions such as motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy and forms of dementia, respiratory conditions and organ conditions, developmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, mental health conditions, mental illnesses and conditions produced by injury, including to the brain. There is a list of exceptions, too, but I think if people went and had a look at that list, they might be surprised that they qualify under this new legislation.
As the mother of a child with special educational needs, I know just how many appointments I needed to take my son to as he was being diagnosed, and it was over a long time and across different parts of the country. These are the things parents have to do to help children with long-term conditions. I know that the number of young people struggling with mental health illnesses is particularly high, and they are struggling to get support. This Bill will impact them.
I was delighted to hear that the Bill will go wider than just the family and go into the community, too. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I was a volunteer in my village of Ewhurst with an organisation called Ewcare, and the volunteers particularly looked after elderly people. They took them to their auditory appointments and their sight test appointments, but they also did things like, as I did, visiting people who are by themselves in the home. They had carers coming in, but the lady I was looking after, who was 93, had to go into hospital for repeated urinary tract infections. One of my jobs was to go in and bring her glasses that she had left at home so that she could read things while she was having her hospital care. The caring goes out into the community—it is much wider than the family—and it is incredibly important that the Bill recognises that we may have elderly neighbours for whom we have a regular responsibility.
It was great to see that Employers for Carers has said about this Bill:
“Employers who already have Carer’s Leave in place say that it’s a win-win situation, to support and retain key employees in the workplace, helping to keep business going and avoiding extra costs. The most forward-thinking employers go one step further and have provided Carer’s Leave as a paid entitlement.”
This Bill is slightly different from that, because my understanding is that the entitlement is unpaid, but the fact that we have employers already providing this good level of service is great. Through legislation, we can ensure that every employer provides it to their workers.
In conclusion, I will be supporting this Bill today. It is incredibly important that we keep pushing forward the rights of workers, and it builds on the Conservative party manifesto in 2019, which I have already referenced, where we said we would
“extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, to one week.”
It also builds on the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, which committed to introducing these measures. It is great to see that, working constructively with Government and Back-Bench colleagues from all parties, we can successfully act on the commitments that we made in 2019.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on introducing this important legislation and getting it to this stage before it, hopefully, wings its way down the corridor to the other place. I also pay tribute to the millions of people across the country, and particularly the thousands of people in North West Norfolk, who provide care for some of our most vulnerable people. We all know from personal experience and talking to constituents the toll that providing care can take not just on mental and physical wellbeing, but on people’s household finances and other responsibilities, including, of course, their jobs.
I would also like to recognise Carers UK for the vital work it does in supporting carers and for its tireless campaigning in favour of a statutory right of leave for carers. Juggling caring responsibilities and work is incredibly challenging and can limit the participation of unpaid carers in the marketplace. As Carers UK has said, the stresses and strains of having to juggle paid work alongside unpaid care have led to hundreds of thousands of people leaving the labour market entirely. On average, 600 people a day leave work to care. As well as it helping with people’s wellbeing, the record levels of vacancies in the job market mean that it is vital we do everything we can to support unpaid carers to remain in work with this greater flexibility.
The Bill helps to address the challenges that carers face and tackle a long-running issue. Back in 2017, the Select Committee on Work and Pensions concluded that there was a strong case for carer’s leave. The 2019 Conservative manifesto, on which I was elected, included commitments to introduce leave for carers, and in 2020 the Government consulted on proposals to give employees a week of unpaid leave each year to provide care. As was discussed in the previous debate, there was an employment Bill in the 2019 Queen’s Speech, which for understandable reasons has not been taken forward. It is very welcome that another of the baby bells from breaking up that employment Bill will now go forward.
As I mentioned, Carers UK has campaigned for many years for the statutory right to leave. It said:
“The Bill would help support unpaid carers to remain in work. Given the current cost of living crisis, there has never been a more important time to do so. It would also bring significant benefits to business, and the wider economy.”
The impact of the Bill is significant. It gives rights to millions of people who have unpaid caring responsibilities, supporting them to remain in work and improving their health and wellbeing. It would mean that some 1.4 million employers to whom this applies would have to think about their employees and their caring responsibilities, and also the opportunity to boost retention and recruitment by doing so.
Since being elected to the House just over three years ago, I have worked with local organisations that support carers, including the Motor Neurone Disease Association, as well as West Norfolk Carers, for whom I was pleased to run the London Marathon a couple of years ago. I finished as the fastest English MP, out of interest, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) was a few minutes ahead of me. Sue Heal, a volunteer with the Norfolk, Norwich and Waveney branch of MNDA, with whom I have worked, emailed me this week to say:
“Recent research conducted by the MND Association found MND carers are physically and mentally exhausted, unable to access breaks and impacted financially. Many are also juggling caring with work and additional responsibilities.”
She asked me to support the Bill on behalf of MND sufferers and their carers and I am very pleased to do so today.
Caring Together, a local charity that works across Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, wrote to me a couple of weeks ago also urging me to support the Bill and urging the Government to do so as well. They also called for the leave to be paid, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) said, some employers will chose to do that. We hope that that is a direction that people will go in. The charity said that carers can get isolated, depressed, ill, and out of touch with family and friends. Therefore, I welcome the Government’s support for the Bill, which demonstrates commitment to carers.
The Bill would amend the Employment Rights Act 1996, requiring the Secretary of State to create, by regulations, a new statutory entitlement to carer’s leave. The Bill would require that any such leave entitlement must be at least one week per year. Importantly, as others have said, this leave would be a day one right, available to all employees without any qualifying period. It would apply to anyone caring for a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or other dependant with a long-term care need, and it would be able to be taken flexibly. I think this is a model piece of legislation.
This is a welcome change in employment law, but, again, it necessitates employees and employers knowing about the changes in advance, preparing for them and making sure that they are implemented most effectively. I understand that it is expected that the regulations will be laid and commenced in 2024, and I am sure the Minister will use the time between now and then to consult carers and employers properly to ensure that the legislation works and there is simple, easy-to-access guidance on the new rights.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that these changes will form part of a wider package of support for carers, with the Government’s continuing to support the implementation of improved rights, as enshrined in the Care Act 2014. For example, I welcome the White Paper on social care, which outlined measures to support carers, including up to £25 million to kick-start a change in services, so that they can access respite, breaks and wellbeing support. The new integrated care boards—my local one is the Norfolk and Waveney ICB—will have a duty to involve carers when care is commissioned for their loved one. Taken together, these measures are helping to form a package of support that will ensure that carers can access the services they need, when they need them, and that carers are helped to balance their own lives, including employment, with caring responsibilities. I am very pleased to support this Bill.
First, let me pay tribute to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who has promoted the Bill and spoken eloquently, both today and in previous stages of its consideration, about the need for its provisions. I will be supporting the Bill today. As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), who, unfortunately is no longer in his place, the Bill would have a positive impact on the lives of approximately 4.2 million people across Great Britain who currently provide unpaid care for a dependant. I say Great Britain, because of course employment law is devolved in Northern Ireland.
Many important contributions have already been made, both today and on Second Reading. I was unable to attend the Second Reading debate, so I read through Hansard in preparation for today. I was struck by a number of the contributions made then and I wish to draw the House’s attention to the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey). He pointed out that at the beginning of the pandemic
“unpaid carers saved the state £135 billion.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2022; Vol. 720, c. 997.]
The term “billions” is bandied about a lot these days and we have become a little numb to it, as though billions of pounds sterling were a mere trifle. The reality is that we are talking about a colossal sum. To put it into context, it is 58 times the amount of money the UK sent in military aid to Ukraine in 2022 and it is equivalent to three times our annual defence spending. So if my hon. Friend is correct, and I have no reason to doubt that he is, that alone makes a very strong case for the potential positive impact of the Bill on our society and economy.
I also wish to pay tribute to colleagues who have spoken about their constituents’ experiences, and indeed about their own personal experiences, as unpaid carers. I was particularly moved to read the comments made on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who spoke about the devastating situation he faced as a young man in his 20s having to provide care for both of his parents, who were at that time suffering from cancer. That was an important contribution to the debate and it helped to illustrate vividly why we need this Bill to be made into law. Many across the country are fortunate enough not to have had to face such experiences, but, as he said,
“dependency on care can be sudden.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2022; Vol. 720, c. 1000.]
It is important that we in this House make sure that the British people can be confident that they will not be penalised for doing the right thing when they take time off to help a loved one if and when the time arises. That is precisely what I believe this Bill seeks to achieve.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool South (Scott Benton), for Guildford (Angela Richardson) and for North West Norfolk (James Wild) have all pointed out, both the 2017 and 2019 Conservative manifestos included a commitment on entitlement to unpaid leave for carers. This was also included in the Queen’s Speech of 2019, in the employment Bill, which, unfortunately was not able to proceed because of the onset of the pandemic. The hon. Member for North East Fife is to be congratulated on and thanked for bringing this Bill to the House, and I am glad that the Government have agreed to support it.
I turn to aspects of the Bill that it is important we keep under review. I draw attention to the impact assessment published in July last year. The Bill seeks to help employers through a regulatory approach. That, in practical terms, means more rules for businesses and employers to comply with and, whether we like it or not, a small increase in administrative costs. The impact assessment estimates those costs as follows: a one-off cost to large businesses of adapting of about £4.7 million; and an annual cost to business of about £40 million. Of that, £9.3 million would be costs imposed on small businesses for administering leave among other things.
If we consider, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk said, that there were 5.5 million small businesses in our country in 2021 and that, of those, about 1.4 million had employees, we must take into account that the employers with the highest number of employees will be paying the lion’s share of those costs. It must be admitted that the costs are slight, but they could affect the decision making of employers weighing up whether to take on new staff. The impact assessment cannot quantify the cost of unintended consequences of the day one right or the fact that employees will not be required to provide evidence to request leave. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said, we need to be on our guard to ensure that the right is not abused.
However, I am anxious not to make perfect the enemy of the good. The potential additional costs are a tiny fraction of what unpaid carers save the state and our economy. The Bill has great potential and, if we strike the right balance, we will get much-needed reassurance to so many people who might be worried about losing their job if they are faced with the agonising prospect of having no one to provide care for a loved one. This is a compassionate and well-intentioned Bill, and one that is clearly needed. I will consequently be supporting it today.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, especially having heard all the contributions from around the House. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on promoting the Bill and on her stewardship in getting it to this stage. As others have said—this is similar to our debate on the previous Bill—this is a really important piece of legislation, affecting about 4.2 million people across the country. I should probably declare an interest as my parents are getting to a stage in their lives where caring responsibilities will be required. I totally endorse the view on family life given by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) and will build on it, because the quality of care is typically better and has healthier outcomes when provided by a family member—a loved one; someone who is known and trusted and who understands the nuances of how the person has led most of their life. When I visit my parents, their eyes light up, not necessarily because I can do any more than professional carers but because they see a reassuring face and someone they know that they can inherently trust to do the best for them.
Since my election to this place, we have had various debates about the health and social care system. This is an integral part of that network, which has a complex landscape. However, I think it is fair—fairness, in my eyes, is a main driver for the Government—that when people are doing the right thing by supporting their loved ones, the state, were appropriate, gives them the opportunity to do so. While they will be sacrificing their salary for those unpaid days, they are doing the right thing by stepping up for their loved ones.
As a culture, we are very different from other parts of the world. Typically, our households are not multi-generational where once they were, so when loved ones get involved more actively in supporting their elder parents, their young children who may need additional support or their siblings, the Government and the nation should do all they can to help provide for that.
Carers UK reports that, on average, 600 people a day leave work to care. Its 2019 report found that about 2 million adults had reduced their working hours to cope with their need to care. The point that I would echo is the stitch-in-time principle: where a person makes the sacrifice early and gets involved in the caring responsibility before it becomes too difficult, that leads to better outcomes for that person as well as for their loved one in terms of the stress related to looking after loved ones.
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent speech. He has an absolute gift for bringing human experience to life, and listening to him is always great. Is there a risk that people applying for jobs may be prevented from getting that job or discriminated against because they say that they are carers? We perhaps need to look a little more at not requiring potential employees to declare that they are carers.
My hon. and gallant Friend is absolutely right to highlight that potential issue. The way I would read it, however—to go back to what the Minister said in the previous debate—is that reputation matters. For an employer, when an employee says that they have caring responsibilities, it shows loyalty. In my experience, it shows that the employee is more loyal, passionate and eager to do a good job when they are at work. If someone approached me for a job today and flexible working were part of their requirements, I would regard that as an asset. Part of the challenge is educating employers to understand that it is a benefit to have someone with that skillset in their workforce. It is, in my eyes, more important to be effective at work than just to clock in and out.
Let me continue humanising this story. I was contacted by Susan Graham, one of my constituents, a couple of years ago. She told me her personal story:
“I have been caring for my husband who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease 10 years ago. I have had to leave work to care for him and try to find other ways to help with our financial needs for our family.”
The fact that she has had to reach out to her constituency MP—despite the support that great third-party organisations and the voluntary sector can provide—is strong evidence that we need to do more. The Bill from the hon. Member for North East Fife is part of the long-term-solution jigsaw. I know that the Minister will understand that there will probably be an evolution in future legislation as a consequence of the Bill, but we need to balance that with employers and combat any unintended consequences.
A lot of work has been done in this particular policy area. Back in 2017, the Work and Pensions Committee found that carers often choose between taking a sick day or using a day’s annual leave. The Committee concluded that there was
“a strong case for five days’ statutory paid carer’s leave based on the existing statutory leave system.”
That is where I think this place does excellent work. Although we are all eager to make a positive impact on people’s lives, our work needs to be evidence-based and involve all sides of the debate. In my experience, Select Committees are typically a good way of doing that, as are all-party parliamentary groups.
Information gathered for the 2021 census showed that 92,781 people in Hertfordshire provided care to friends and family. That number is just a portion of the national one, which shows the huge scale of the matter. The organisation Carers in Hertfordshire supports people who care for family or friends with physical or learning disabilities, dementia, mental health problems and much more. It has approximately 32,500 registered carers, so caring affects a huge number of people. Open Door, an excellent charity in my constituency, hosts a “memory café” every Friday. I have attended and seen at first hand the excellent work that it does by ensuring that those who are suffering have a support network. It also allows carers to get a bit of respite from the 24/7 challenges that they face. I take this opportunity to thank each and every one of those organisations and all the carers throughout the country.
To return to the topic of employers, we need to legislate properly, but we also need to ensure that this is not a one-sided debate. I referred earlier to my own experiences as a small business owner. We need to be conscious that although the unpaid aspect of the legislation is important, the time off may have a material impact on smaller businesses. I therefore think that the pro rata five days’ annual leave is proportionate. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) suggested that it could be 10 half-days, and I think that is appropriate, because things are sometimes a bit ad hoc when a family carer needs to step up and help someone with, for instance, an appointment.
Employers who support their employees have lower staff turnover. In my experience, it inevitably takes a bit of time for a person joining the workforce to learn the nuances of a new employer, because while all employers will have the requisite skills and, probably, tradecraft, each one will have unique aspects. Treating employees well should be regarded as a bonus because it makes them better employees, so in terms of reputation and legacy that is the right thing to do. The Bill has tangible benefits for the employer as well as the employee.
Informal carers are forgotten about in parts of our legislation. They are currently not entitled to any dedicated statutory leave, and have to rely on other forms of leave. A tenth of all adults in the UK provide unpaid care for a friend or family member. I do not think that any Member, on either side of the House, wants unpaid carers to feel forgotten about, and I hope that the flexibility that the Bill allows will demonstrate, in a very small way, our gratitude for the selfless work that they do.
I call the shadow Minister.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) on the fantastic job she has done in leading this important Bill through all its stages, and on another excellent speech which summed up the concerns about this important issue. I also welcome the contributions from the hon. Members for Devizes (Danny Kruger), for Bracknell (James Sunderland), for Blackpool South (Scott Benton), for Guildford (Angela Richardson), for North West Norfolk (James Wild), for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) and for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), all of whom made persuasive cases for the Bill. I am certain that all Members want it to complete its passage today.
As I said on Second Reading, about 5 million people currently care for their loved ones without pay, while at the same time holding down employment. These unpaid carers—these everyday heroes who help to ensure that those who can be cared for at home, surrounded by friends and family in a familiar environment, are indeed cared for at home—have no statutory right to take leave from their caring responsibilities, even when they are also easing the burden on our already overstretched and overworked NHS in the process.
The Bill has our full support today, but it has had a long journey, given that the Government first promised the right to statutory carer’s leave nearly six years ago, and then again just over three years ago. As with many of the measures in this Session’s private Members’ Bills, the Government should have introduced this important statutory right in an employment Bill, but I am nevertheless glad that we are finally in a position to make progress with guaranteeing it. However, as I have pointed out in debates on the Bill’s earlier stages, the statutory requirement for unpaid carer’s leave is not enough. Although it gives them the right to take leave for caring responsibilities, it does nothing to support those thousands of unpaid carers through the financial challenges they face, even when organisations such as Carers UK say that it would increase productivity for employers and economic gains for the Treasury by improving retention rates, and although it would support working women, the group who are overwhelmingly the most likely to be juggling work and unpaid caring responsibilities.
That is why, although we have supported the Bill throughout its stages, the next Labour Government will be committed to building on this legislation and introducing a right to paid carer’s leave in our new deal for working people.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate, and I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) for her tremendous work in bringing forward this important legislation, which I am pleased to say the Government support. I am also very grateful for the cross-party support for these measures. It was a pleasure to attend the hon. Lady’s carer’s leave drop-in event on 25 January, and I was pleased that there is support from TSB and Centrica, and to see at first hand the good work led by Baroness Pitkeathley and Carers UK.
The Bill recognises the importance of the 4.2 million unpaid carers up and down the country, 2 million of whom are in work. It will provide employed unpaid carers with a new right to one week of unpaid leave per year to care for a dependant. Importantly, this will be a day-one right, available from the very first day of the job. From older employees to women and those with disabilities or long-term health conditions, where they are providing or in need of care, the Bill represents an important step forward in supporting their needs and giving them a better chance of remaining in work.
Some fine points were raised in the debate. The hon. Member for North East Fife made the interesting point that many carers do not even know they are carers. That point was also raised in a side conversation I had with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who told me that for 25 years her mother was a carer to her father. She talked about some of the situations they faced, such as when she needed to attend a doctor’s appointment with her parents to make sure that the needs of her father were understood. I know that the Bill is very important to her. The hon. Member for North East Fife also set out the broad range of such situations, including just going out to do some shopping.
The hon. Member for North East Fife also pointed out that this change in legislation reflects the change in our workplaces, and that it can improve trust between workers and employers, which is also very important. She rightly pointed out that lots of employers are already doing these things, and that the Bill merely formalises it for those who are while raising the bar for those who are not, because such steps serve to improve motivation, loyalty and productivity in the workplace.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) quoted one of my favourite songs—it is probably best if I do not burst into song on this occasion, on the basis of the interesting lyrics. He rightly pointed out this is a day-one right and that it meets the needs of both employers and workers. Some 575,000 people of working age have left the workplace; we need them back and flexibility is key. He also pointed out the cost to business, which is £39.9 million every year.
I was delighted to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon), who had actually read the impact assessment, quite rightly—not everybody participating in such debates does. The impact assessment always sets out the financial impact on businesses.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) talked about the notice period, and he asked about very short notice situations. I can reassure him that there is an existing right to do that in law for emergency situations, but as for the notice period—also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton)—a decent notice period is required which is twice the length of time expected to be taken plus one day, so a minimum of three days. It is fair on employers that they be given at least some notice, and there is a maximum likely allowance of seven days per year.
In response to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), let me reiterate what I said in the previous debate: this Government are committed to improving workers’ rights by any mechanism we can use. We are bringing forward this legislation and doing so much more quickly than by using the other ways he described.
My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) paid a handsome tribute to unpaid carers up and down the country. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) also paid tribute to those who have campaigned for this leave over the years—that campaigning has been absolutely critical, and today must be a very good day for them. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra) gave some really touching examples, including that of Mrs Graham, who has had to care for her husband who has Parkinson’s. It must have been very difficult for her to do so for such an extended period of time.
To conclude, carer’s leave is important in improving carers’ quality of life, but it will also benefit those who depend on the care provided by unpaid carers and, indeed, employers. We know that there are already some brilliant, supportive and flexible employers out there who are taking great steps to support those in their workforce with caring responsibilities, recognising the value of policies that help carers to stay in work. The Government are supporting the Bill, in line with our manifesto commitments, and I will end by thanking our wonderful civil servants who have worked so hard on this legislation: Tony Mulcahy, Leona Hoxha-Kartallozi, Amanda Marsh, Ana Pollard, Sarah West, Bryan Halka, Elena Hartley, Roxana Bakharia, Jayne McCann and, from my private office, Cora Sweet. I commend the Bill to the House.
With the leave of the House, I want to thank everybody who has taken the time to be here today and to speak. It is worth mentioning that, as a Liberal Democrat, I follow in the path of others in my passion for carers and their rights: the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) is currently doing on kinship care is very important, and our leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Ed Davey), has spoken many times in the House about his own caring experiences and has worked hard with organisations such as Carers UK to forward carers’ rights.
It has been a real pleasure working in partnership with Carers UK, which I thank for its amazing support on the Bill; it has made things very straightforward. I also want to mention the Carers Trust and the Scottish Government’s Carer Positive scheme—I have become an employer who supports carers myself, and I think that scheme should be looked at beyond Scotland. I also thank the carers working in North East Fife. They introduced me to the CRAP carers—the compassionate, resilient and patient group in St Andrews. I also thank the MS Society: I am grateful that it gave me sighting of its preliminary findings, which I mentioned in my Third Reading speech, and I hope the Government will take note of those findings when they are published later this year. I also want to acknowledge my senior researcher, Kathryn Sturgeon, who had her work on the Bill recognised by winning the project lead award in the inaugural cross-party staff network awards earlier this year.
I thank the staff in BEIS. We have seen one another regularly, and they have been a fantastic support; I know they did a great amount of work in the background on the Bill before it was introduced, consulting with stakeholders and formulating this policy area. As the Minister mentioned, he is not the only Minister I have been speaking with in relation to the Bill; I also recognise the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), the hon. Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt)—who spoke on Second Reading—and the hon. Member for Watford (Dean Russell). Both this Minister, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), came to my drop-in event last week, and I have photographic evidence of their support for the Bill as it goes on to its remaining stages.
I am so grateful to all Members who spoke today. There are too many to mention, but I hope that both the Minister’s responses and what I have said in my speech have described the balance that we are attempting to strike by making carer’s leave a day-one right. I really hope that people can bring their whole selves to work—the skills, knowledge and behaviours that they have as carers—in order to be able to work hard for their employers, and I hope the Bill mitigates some of the concerns about people potentially abusing the system. I do need to mention the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland), who said very kind words about me—I myself did not serve, but I worked for the Career Transition Partnership. He and I believe that the vast majority of veterans make a very positive contribution to the workplace, but hopefully the Bill will help provide support for those who need it.
The Bill is a huge step in the right direction for carers across the UK who volunteer to help loved ones with their caring needs. There is clearly much still to do in that regard, but I am very grateful to hon. Members for their support, and I look forward to watching the Bill’s progress in the other place.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.