Research into practice

Debates about the growing number of informal carers who combine
the caring role with paid employment are not new. Chapter three of
the National Carers’ Strategy states that “half of all
working carers spend over five hours per week on informal care,
with 20 per cent caring for more than 20 hours.”1 Within
the strategy, the government also acknowledges that, in the future,
more middle-aged people will take on more informal caring.

The research,2 commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Fund
and undertaken at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, focuses on people
in their fifties and sixties who are in employment and have caring
responsibilities. The study makes the links between the
responsibilities of caring and the demands of paid

The researchers used three stages of data collection, initially
analysing information from the Labour Force Survey between
1979 and 1999. A postal survey of 1,000 people, aged 50 years or
more, who were employees or who had recently retired from two local
authorities, was carried out. Finally, a number of more in-depth
interviews was undertaken with informal carers.

The research found that employment policies were not always clear
or apparent to staff. The implementation of flexible working
practices often depended on individual managers, rather than being
embedded in the policies and practices of the organisation.
Concerns related to working conditions, pay and pension
contributions were among the barriers to carers reducing their
working hours.

The study found that carers, who combined the caring role with
work, often did so at great cost to themselves, including
ill-health and reduced social or leisure opportunities. Also,
carers put themselves under extra pressure to ensure that their
paid work was not affected detrimentally by the impact of caring
responsibilities. The study also reports that women are more likely
than men to provide substantial amounts of more intensive care.
Individual carers interviewed were attempting to balance work and
caring duties and did not wish to give up either role.

This research raises questions about the future sustainability of
the extent of informal care. While the number of older people in
the population continues to increase, there is a falling number of
potential informal carers available. According to the report the
main contributors to this deficit include:

  • The increasing drive to retain older people in the employment
  • The reduction in early retirement.
  • Proposed changes to the age at which pensions can be

It can be seen from the range of findings from this research
that the implications are far-reaching and go beyond social care
practices alone. There are clearly implications for all employers
and their employment policies but local authorities in particular,
given that the research focused on their employees, should consider
their own practices in relation to employment conditions. Further,
there are implications in relation to how carers’ needs are
assessed and met.

The National Carers’ Strategy espouses the need for flexibility,
both in employment policies and support services. This research
would appear to indicate that there is still much to be done.
However, perhaps the most thought-provoking implications from this
research are the fundamental issues for society more generally, in
how we construct and value the role of informal carers.

1 Department of Health,
Caring about Carers: A National Strategy for Carers, DoH,

2 A Mooney, J Statham, A Simon, The Pivot
Generation: Informal Care and Work after 50
, The Policy Press,

Karin Crawford is senior lecturer in social work, Hull
School of Health and Social Care, University of

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