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Background

Carers’ charity Carers UK have campaigned in favour of a statutory right to leave for carers for many years, with their preference being for a right to paid leave.

In November 2017 the Work and Pensions Select Committee launched an inquiry into employment support for carers, which found that carers “often must choose between taking a sick day or using a day’s annual leave. This can be detrimental to their own physical and mental well-being.” The Committee concluded that “There is a strong case for five days’ statutory paid carer’s leave based on the existing statutory leave system.”

The 2017 and 2019 Conservative general election manifestos both included commitments to introduce leave for carers. In 2020 there was a Government consultation on “proposals to give employees a week of unpaid leave each year to provide care.” The response to the consultation found strong support for the idea and concluded that “Legislation to introduce carer’s leave as a day 1 statutory employment right will be brought forward when parliamentary time allows.”

These measures were included in an outline of a proposed Employment Bill in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech. However, the Employment Bill was not ultimately introduced in the 2019-21 session and did not reappear in the 2021 or 2022 Queen’s Speeches.

In 2021 Conservative MP Jack Brereton introduced a Private Member’s Bill, the Employment (Caring Leave) Bill 2021-22 which would have given “employees who are unpaid carers the right to one week’s unpaid leave for caring purposes.” The Bill did not receive a second reading.

The Bill

The Carers Leave Bill 2022-23, Bill 23 of the 2022-23 session, was introduced on 15 June 2022 by Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain as a Private Member’s Bill, presented to Parliament through the ballot procedure. It is listed for second reading on 21 October 2022.

What does the Bill do?

This Bill would require and give the Secretary of State the power to create, by regulations, a new entitlement to carer’s leave, “entitling an employee to be absent from work on leave under this section in order to provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need.”

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 dependent who needs care because of a disability, old age or any illness or injury likely to require at least three months of care.

This leave would be unpaid. The maximum duration of the leave and how and when it could be taken would be set by regulations, although the Bill would require the leave entitlement to be at least one week per year.

The new leave entitlement would apply to England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland where employment law is a devolved matter.

Commentary

In a press release following the introduction of the Bill its sponsor Wendy Chamberlain MP explained why, in her view, this was an important issue, saying:

This bill will help carers juggle work and care whilst supporting employers to maximise retention and wellbeing. Passing it will be a significant step forwards from all sides.

According to care sector magazine Home Care Insight, 21 cross-party MPs had pledged public support for the Bill as of 30 August. During a House of Lords debate on Carer’s Leave: Government Departments, Lord True, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, said that the Government would look closely at whether it could support this Bill as a way of delivering on previous Government commitments in this area, while Baroness Smith of Basildon, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords, suggested that the Labour Party would be supportive of legislation on this issue.

It has been reported in the independent that “some 100 organisations – including employers, national and local carers’ organisations and trade unions – have publicly expressed their backing” for the Bill. Organisations issuing supportive statements include carer’s charity Carers UK and associated employers membership forum Employers For Carers.


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