Care(ers) in crisis?

CROWE doctoral researcher Louise Oldridge on the experiences of women combining employment and informal caring roles.

It has been well documented that the UK has an ageing population, and that people are not only living longer but are doing so with health problems.  In addition, we are also seeing an increasing number of care homes closing, as reported by the Care Quality Commission this month.  Nick Triggle, Health Correspondent for the BBC, recently reported on the costs of care detailing that the government is putting less funds into adult social care as the plan for care system reform (and caps on the cost of care) is now not expected until 2020.

Help in meeting care costs are means-tested in England and those who do have capital (assets of £23,250 or more) have to subsidise their care and can end up paying far more than a council would pay on their behalf (readers can find local care costs using the calculator in Triggle’s BBC article).  This has resulted in an ever increasing reliance on care provided on an informal basis, by friends and family, currently saving the state an estimated £132 billion (Carers UK, 2016) and there are significant implications for those who provide such care.  Those implications reported include adverse effects on health and wellbeing, quality of life, maintenance of social networks, income and capacity to remain in employment (Carers UK, 2016; Carers UK, 2015).

Data shows that the highest provision of such informal/unpaid care is provided by women between the ages of 50 – 64.  According to the last census in 2011, one in nine people combine caring and formal employment.  Previous research has demonstrated that those who are carers may find themselves having to reduce the number of hours they work, their levels of responsibility or even leave their jobs entirely (Carers UK, 2016; Waters, 2008; Yeandle et al, 2007).  It is therefore important to understand the implications of caring on the careers of women in this age bracket, especially as careers literature sees them as being at their professional peak and the government is keen to encourage older workers to remain active in the labour market.

My research focuses on women between the ages of 45 – 65 who live in Leicester/Leicestershire (home to De Montfort University) where (according to the calculator in Triggle’s BBC article) care costs can run at 46% higher than those negotiated by councils for residential care and 41% higher for nursing care.  Also, where the council are paying for care, individuals may still have to make a financial contribution themselves with an average of £145 per week for residential care and £142 for nursing care in Leicester.  Women in my study are currently, or have recently been, combining employment and informal caring and my research seeks to understand more about their care and career experiences.  By reaching out to both the city and county council, charities and carers support groups, local community centres, employers and through my network, just as a starting point, I have spent much of the summer interviewing women in this position.  The interview starts by plotting their career trajectories, with a focus on how their career has been shaped by the point at which they became a carer (if they are able to identify this) and is supplemented by questions around their careers and care.

Interviews are ongoing but some interesting themes are emerging:

  • There is much variation around expectations to provide care, but it is often linked to a reported belief in the failure of the adult social care system and the reliance on informal care, as noted above.
  • However, women also place expectations upon themselves to care, alongside family, upbringing, cultural and sometimes religious influences.
  • Some women think about their caring as a type of work, in addition to their formal employment, often in the form of both physical and emotional labour. This is important as it means it should be considered when reviewing their career and its development.
  • Frequently, women are talking about the additional skills that they have gained from caring but also the skills and experience from their employment history which helps them with caring, even where not directly care-related, such as project management.
  • Participants do not always get the opportunity to have career development discussions but do still seek development in many cases.
  • In light of their caring, career development becomes subjective rather than necessarily seeking upward progression and they often desire to combine employment and caring effectively.
  • Where they are still working sometimes women feel a sense of guilt because they think they should be caring.

This research has potential implications for adult social care research policy, practice, theories around women’s career development and concepts of work and as the research continues more findings will emerge.

Interviews are ongoing so if you, or someone you know, would be eligible to take part in the research then please do get in touch either by phone (0116 257 7430) or email (louise.oldridge@dmu.ac.uk).

Louise Oldridge is a Doctoral Researcher in CROWE, and Part-time Lecturer atlouise De Montfort University.  Before joining academia she gained 9 years’ experience working in industry in a range of positions in human resources in the private sector with a focus on employment relations.  Louise’s research interests focus on women’s careers, concepts of work and informal care.