Businesses and society will have to redefine the idea of â€œfamilyâ€ to face up to challenges from theÂ ageing population, the pensions minister has said.
Companies could suffer aÂ manpower crisisÂ within the next decade unless they find ways to enableÂ middle-aged and older workersÂ to take time off for care commitments in a similar way to the flexibility afforded to parents, Baroness Altmann has warned.
The peer, a former director general of Saga, urged firms to voluntarily incorporate â€œfamily care leaveâ€ into contracts, otherwise millions of valued and experienced workers could be forced to retire early. Lady Altmann is leading a task force of business and union leaders to develop a form of flexible leave to avert the potentially crippling exodus of experience from the economy.
According to the census in 2011, approximately 6.5 million people in the UK have caring responsibilities including more than two million who have given up work for their duties.
Carers UK, a charity, estimates that a further three million people have had to reduce their working hours to fit in with caring responsibilities. The number of people suffering dementia is predicted to rise from 800,000 to more than one million by the end of this decade and to double within 30 years.
Yet at the same time, there will be millions more approaching what was once retirement age in full health, not only wanting to continue working but needing to for financial reasons.
TheÂ right to request flexible working, originally designed for parents of young children, was extended to all employees, including carers, under the Coalition government. But there have been calls for a change in the law to give people a legal right to care leave.
Lady Altmann, who is not planning new laws forcing firms to act, said: â€œThe idea is for more employers to start recognising the need to care for loved ones is inevitably going to go way beyond just children.
â€œThis would allow people to take time for some kind of family crisis, whether it is a partner that has a stroke or a parent who becomes disabled â€“ time to arrange care.
â€œWe all want to look after loved ones. The problem is that often when that happens someone in their late 50s, who can be among the most valuable employees, feels they have to stop [work].
â€œThe â€˜familyâ€™ tends to be thought of as parents and children. But actually it can now be across generations.â€
Stephen Alambritis, formerly of theÂ Federation of Small BusinessesÂ and now leader of Merton Council in London, said: â€œThere will be concern. To give time off for deliberate known events, like discharges from hospital, could be more difficult for smaller employers.â€
Nearest tube: Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station: Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle: ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45