A new Vodafone UK report by WPI Strategy, Lost Connections: Supporting carers in the workplace in 2021 and beyond, highlights the challenges facing unpaid carers, defined as ‘those helping another person, usually a relative or friend, in their day-to-day life.’

The report suggests women are more than twice as likely as men to leave their jobs due to caring responsibilities and highlights the benefits of flexible working seen during the pandemic. The report is published as Vodafone’s new Global Parental Leave Policy comes into effect, offering employees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or length of service, 16 weeks of fully paid parental leave.

Polling carried out for the report found that almost 10% of female carers said the main reason for leaving their last job was caring responsibilities (compared with 4% of male respondents) suggesting a failure to support female carers in the workplace risks heightening gender inequalities around participation, pay and progression.  And as the UK deals with an aging population, the number of those needing to leave the workplace due to caring responsibilities is predicted to rise; with reports suggesting as many as three in ten workers would leave their current jobs if they had to take on greater caring responsibilities.

Predictably, the pandemic has increased the pressure on carers in the workplace.  Of the 4.5 million people who took on additional caring responsibilities due to Covid-19[5], over half (2.8 million) were in work. This is in addition to the 3.7 million working carers before the pandemic. Whilst 66% of male respondents were able to continue working full time alongside their caring responsibilities, only 36% of women were able to achieve this. Of the 77% of carers who reported sharing caring responsibilities, women were almost twice as likely to take on the larger share.  

However, the report highlights the benefits of flexible working practices seen during the crisis and suggests these should, where feasible, continue post pandemic. It also notes the importance of digital technology, with 92 per cent of respondents saying it would be harder to balance work and caring responsibilities without access to technology.

The report suggests the Government and employers must work together to ensure those with unpaid caring responsibilities can continue to work if they wish to. It recommends businesses provide the right digital technology and connectivity, are transparent about care and parental leave policies during the recruitment process and, if possible, embrace flexible working to retain talent.

Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director at Vodafone UK, said:  “We are living through extraordinary times.  Covid-19 has both heightened and highlighted the challenges facing unpaid carers in the workplace, and particularly women who tend to take on the lion’s share of caring duties.  At Vodafone, we recognise the importance of unpaid carers to society and are committed to providing greater support to working carers. I’m delighted that our new Global Parental Leave policy comes into force today, giving parents more opportunity to share their caring responsibilities.”

Minister for Women, Baroness Berridge, said: “Now, more than ever, we see the benefits of flexible working. This report adds to existing evidence showing how unpaid caring responsibilities often lead to women leaving work, to the detriment of their employers. It’s great to see that, on top of its other work around inclusivity, Vodafone has introduced a Global Parental Leave policy which will help to make caring responsibilities equal, enabling women to continue their careers. Everyone can benefit from flexible working, but the research shows that for women it can be especially important. Flexible working and inclusive care policies can be a vital tool to achieve workplace equality.”

Jess Phillips MP, Co-Chair of the Women and Work All Party Parliamentary Group, said: “Today’s report from Vodafone shows the importance of supporting carers but also the need for greater support for those juggling work with caring responsibilities, an issue that has become painstakingly apparent over the last year. As the majority of carers are women, we cannot deny this is a gendered issue. Unless action is taken by both Government and businesses, we risk losing more women from the workforce which will only heighten existing gender inequalities.”

Charlotte Woodworth, Gender Equality Campaigns’ Director at Business in the Community said: ‘Although BITC research has found men and women want to share caring for their families, most employers still offer extremely lopsided support based on the gender of the person who wants to take time out to care. This uneven approach not only limits men’s ability to care, it holds women back at work and undermines gender equality more generally. It’s great to see another employer joining those who have adopted a more modern approach, more in line with 21st century families’ attitudes.”

Vodafone’s new Global Parental Leave Policy comes into effect today and offers employees – regardless of gender, sexual orientation or length of service – 16 weeks of fully paid parental leave. Any employee whose partner is having a baby, becomes a parent through surrogacy, or who adopts a child will have the flexibility to take up to 16 weeks paid leave at any time during the child’s first 18 months.  The policy will enable non-birthing parents in particular to take a more equal role in caring responsibilities in the early days of becoming a parent.

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