Gemma Reucroft, Tunstall’s UK & Ireland HR Director, writes about the rising numbers of working carers – and what employers can do to help.

How many of your employees are caring for someone with dementia? Do you know? I’m guessing that most employers don’t. Yet we are facing a big challenge. Recent research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) said that dementia caring obligations cost English businesses £1.6 billion a year. There are 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this figure is set to rise to over 1 million by 2021 and 1.7 million by 2050.

It is not just dementia. We are seeing significant increases in other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and often caring responsibilities for those living with these conditions rests with the family – family who are often trying to balance care with work. Research undertaken by the Carers Week partnership paints a worrying picture. 34% of carers feel that they have missed out on promotion or development opportunities at work. 42% of carers have taken a reduced income in order to provide care, and it is believed that over 2 million people have had to give up work altogether.

It is becoming increasingly clear that providing more support to carers in work should be part of HR strategy. Here at Tunstall we believe that eldercare will be an important part of flex benefits offerings in the future. Right now, only around 9% of employers offer eldercare as a flexible benefit according to Flexible Benefits Research conducted in 2014. Emergency childcare has been an option for some time within flexible benefits programmes, but the need to include eldercare is expected to rise in the future, as more and more people are providing care.  Every single day 6,000 people take on a caring responsibility and at some point in our lives three in five of us will be a carer.

The need to support employees is two-fold. The first is during an emergency or crisis situation. Either there is a new and immediate need to provide care, or existing care arrangements have broken down. This may therefore mean supporting employees with short-term changes to working patterns, time off, or signposting them to sources of support, technology and information. The second need is more long term; when employees need more formalised agreements about how they can achieve balance between care and work. Employers, line managers and indeed flexible benefits programmes, can help in both situations. A supportive employer can make all the difference, and small changes are often all that is needed.

According to the Cebr research, 50,000 carers in 2014 will have to quit their job due to caring responsibilities.

Looking after your carers is a talent retention thing.