Emily Holzhausen OBE is Director of Policy & Public Affairs at Carers UK, which works to improve the lives of carers. Across the UK today there are 6.5 million people caring for relatives or friends who are older, seriously ill or disabled, with half of these carers also juggling full or part time employment, often alongside other family responsibilities. A key part of Emily’s role is ensuring that carers’ voices are heard by policy-makers, employers, the media and the general public.
“…As more people are caring for longer, they are doing so against a backdrop of cuts to social security and local care services. At a time when carers should be getting more support, they are in fact getting less. This is not only unacceptable but dangerously unsustainable…”
Emily, please can you tell us what made you want to work in the charity sector?
I was working in the finance industry in City part time and also working in the charity sector part time. I was offered full time work by both workplaces at the same time, with a clear promise of development and promotion in the City job. But I chose the charity sector. What attracted me to the charity world was the strong motivation of people to work together collectively to make our world and our communities a better place to live and to be, and this remains a strong personal driving force for me today.
What does your role as Director or Policy & Public Affairs at Carers UK involve?
Ultimately, my role is to make life better for carers by campaigning for change, providing carers with expert advice and information, and finding new ways to reach and support carers. I lead on policy, parliamentary affairs, research and media work for Carers UK, as well as overseeing the charity’s vital advice and information services. As a charity led by carers, for carers, carers’ voices are at the heart of everything we do – whether that is submitting a consultation response to government or raising awareness of the reality of caring in the media.
What are the greatest challenges you face in your work to support carers?
Whilst I know we’ve made great progress in recognition and support for carers in some areas, I’m reminded every day that we still have much more to do – particularly in terms of improving financial support for carers, getting better recognition for carers by the NHS and greater investment in social care to back-up families.
As more people are caring for longer, they are doing so against a backdrop of cuts to social security and local care services. At a time when carers should be getting more support, they are in fact getting less. This is not only unacceptable but dangerously unsustainable. If carers aren’t supported to care well for both themselves and their loved ones, the NHS and other public services would be forced to step in. With NHS and local authority budgets already stretched to their limits, this would bring them to their knees.
The Government has a real opportunity in the new cross-Government Carers Strategy to recognise the vital contribution carers make, and can continue to make, to society by improving financial support and investing in vital social care services.
How do you work with corporates to enable them to better understand the needs of their staff with caring responsibilities?
Carers UK estimates the current impact of staff turnover, absenteeism and stress as a result of juggling work with caring is costing UK businesses over £3.5 billion a year. In 2009, we set-up the business forum Employers for Carers in partnership with leading businesses including British Gas and Sainsbury’s, to bring together expertise and best practice for supporting carers in the workplace.
The forum provides advice and help for employers who want to support their employees who juggle work and care; helps to identify and promote the business benefits of supporting carers in the workplace; and it influences government and employment policy and practice to create a culture which supports carers in and into work.
1 in 9 workers in the UK has caring responsibilities. Given the stresses and strains that can come from juggling work and care, it is no surprise that over 2 million people have given up work at some point to care for a loved one and a further 3 million people have reduced their working hours to care.
Caring can then have a long-term impact on a person’s ability to work, as a loss of skills, knowledge, experience and confidence make returning to work when caring ends extremely challenging. What’s more, the loss of earnings, pension contributions and digging into savings can mean carers face long-term financial hardship into retirement.
Employers for Carers has over 80 members, with over one million employees able to access support from the forum and Carers UK. Members who have implemented strategies to support carers in the workplace have benefitted from improved staff retention, resilience and recruitment, as well as positive results for the bottom line. We will strive to build on this membership to raise awareness of caring, tackle the barriers faced every day by working carers and help employers support and nurture their biggest asset – their employees.
This year you were awarded an OBE for your work. Please can you tell us how this came about and what was it like receiving your award at the palace?
It was such an honour to receive the Award. I have worked on carers issues for the past 23 years, with this being my 19th year at Carers UK. During this time, I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked with many brilliant and talented carers and colleagues in the charity, business, public and philanthropic sectors, where I have been involved in a number of landmark moments for carers.
In particular, for Carers UK I have overseen carers winning the right to request flexible working, the introduction of Carers Credit, and, for the first time, carers being given equal rights as the people they care for in the Care Act.
It was wonderful to share the day with my family who have been very supportive of my work to secure better rights and support for carers, and to be given the award by HRH the Princess Royal who has done a lot to support the carers’ cause for the last 30 or so years.
What is coming up for you and Carers UK in 2016?
2016 is going to be a very busy year for Carers UK. As well as ensuring that we can provide carers with accurate information, we’ll be deepening and widening our information to make sure that everyone knows their rights and entitlements.
In 2016, we hope we will see the biggest ever Carers Week – continuing on our theme to build more carer-friendly communities, by getting people to do small things to connect carers with support; and the workplace is an ideal place to do this.
The Care Act 2014, which introduced new rights for carers, will be tested by us to see whether it is making a difference for carers. The NHS is also undergoing huge change and there is much we need to do to ensure that carers are a visible and supported partner in care, locally. Finally, the campaign will continue to ensure that carers are better supported, especially when it comes to their incomes and support services.