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Health Secretary calls for flexible working hours for carers

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The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt has called for a new flexibility for working carers. Carers are the silent social army that keep society looking after its vulnerable members without bankrupting the state and recognition for their role and the need to support them is an encouraging sign from the government.

Jeremy Hunt stressed that employers should allow employees who care for chronically ill and elderly relatives to choose the hours they work. Hundreds of thousands of people across Britain struggle to balance their work commitments with the demands placed upon them as carers, and flexible hours could be a useful step to allow them to manage both aspects of their lives.

With a continually aging population swelling and an impending ‘dementia time bomb’ on the horizon, the health secretary said that a change of attitude towards working carers was essential if we were ever going to manage as a nation. With the number of unpaid, family carers for dementia sufferers alone set to increase by 25% to 850,000 people, Hunt insisted on the social and economic dangers of those people being forced out of work.

He said: "A lot of employers have embraced flexible working policies, but some are simply not prepared for the scale of the dementia time bomb. None of us can afford to ignore this problem. Too many people feel unable to combine caring for a family member with working. This will only get worse as we face the consequences of a dementia time bomb."

Hunt was speaking ahead of the publication next week of a report by the Department of Health, charity Carers UK and Employers for Carers, which will say that £1.3bn in public money could be saved each year through flexibility in working hours. The 2011 census showed that there are about 6.5 million people in Britain with caring responsibilities, an increase of 10% over a decade. Carers UK claims that two million of those people have left work entirely to care, with another three million reducing their working hours.

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