Carer’s Leave Bill: Bishop of Leicester draws attention to Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care

The Bishop of Leicester spoke in support of the Carer’s Leave Bill in its second reading on 3rd March 2023, drawing attention to the recommendations raised by the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care:

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, I am pleased to speak in wholehearted support of this Bill. It has been a pleasure to hear other speeches and to receive briefings on this significant area of our common life. I look forward to hearing other speeches and thank those who have introduced the Bill.

The Bill is an important step forward in showing carers that although their efforts may not be waged, they are very much valued. It might not go as far as could be hoped, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has said, in that it provides for unpaid rather than paid leave, but it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

I see three key features of this Bill: first, the provision of leave for anyone with caring responsibilities, not just those who care for people in their household; secondly, guaranteeing this leave as a day one right; and thirdly, allowing for it to be taken flexibly. These three features show that the Bill recognises the variety of unpaid carers on whom society depends and the distinct challenges they face.

I draw your Lordships’ attention to the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. The report, Care and Support Reimagined: A National Care Covenant for England, was published just a few weeks ago. Paid leave for carers and the right to request flexibility from day one of hire were among the commission’s recommendations. That report, like the authors and champions of this Bill, recognises the difficulties of juggling responsibilities to one’s employers and to the people one cares for. When that balancing act becomes unsustainable, millions of people give up work or reduce their hours in order to care for loved ones. If they do so, further financial pressure is added to their load. In return for providing care worth some £132 billion a year, more than a million unpaid carers are living in poverty.

There are psychological and spiritual as well as financial benefits to being able to stay in work. As one of my colleagues, Carolyn, who cares for her son, told me, for many carers including herself, being able to remain in work forms a vital part of their own well-being and positive mental health. Being able to contribute beyond their caring responsibilities is all part of feeling that their lives have purpose, meaning and consequence. This was echoed at a recent gathering of carers, parents and grandparents of children with special educational needs and disabilities which my wife and I hosted at our house. Many spoke of the loneliness of being a carer and the need for wider support networks, which can of course include colleagues at work.

Having the right to a week’s leave will therefore help many unpaid carers to continue working, with the support for their well-being and household finances which that entails. However, it is important to state that we all stand to benefit from their skills, talents and experience remaining in the workforce. The phenomenal costs of recruitment and retention, which have already been mentioned, point to the spiritual truth that no one is a fungible economic unit. I and my diocese would be much poorer without people such as Carolyn—without their compassion, empathy, sensitivity and wisdom. She enriches us not despite her caring experience, but because of it. This Bill should therefore be passed not as an act of pity, but as a recognition of our collective debt and gratitude to one another and our interdependence on one another.

Returning briefly to the Archbishops’ Commission, its report sees paid leave for carers as just one part of a more radical and ambitious vision. The Christian belief is that we are all made in the image of God, that it is not good for any of us to be alone, and that giving and receiving care is fundamental to human flourishing. This wider values-based vision of the commission encourages a revolution in our attitudes to disability and ageing, recognising that every single person is of equal value and dignity and must be treated as such. This vision includes the aim to make social care a universal entitlement, and that this should be person-centred care, designed with people, not imposed on them. At its heart is a call for a national care covenant which sets out the distinct roles and responsibilities not just of government but of all of us as citizens and neighbours.

I commend the archbishops’ report to your Lordships, as it outlines both the fundamental values and the specific steps which could bring a compassionate, inclusive and sustainable care system into being. I invite employers to venture beyond the letter of the Bill and enter into its spirit by giving carers active support, recognition and affirmation, as well as respite. For every workplace would profit immeasurably by learning from those who give themselves fully to the well-being of others.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab): I particularly pick up on the reference the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester made to the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. I, too, recommend it to those who have not had a chance to look at its recommendations. It was my great privilege to work closely with Anna Dixon in her former role at the Centre for Ageing Better when I was the leader of Leeds City Council. So many of the pieces of work we did there have informed my views on how we need to move forward on this issue.

Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con, Department for Business and Trade): I would like to cover three specific areas in terms of why the Government are so keen to support the Bill. First, this is good for business. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, covered this from her expertise in her trade and economy role. Many other noble Lords also focused on this important point. We cannot afford for so many individuals to leave the workforce if we can possibly avoid it. I will talk about the moral case for that in a moment, but purely commercially, it does not make sense. It is an economic disaster that people are forced to leave employment in order to care. The figure quoted, of £2.9 billion, seems to me to understate the cost to the economy of this situation. Coming at this from a relatively dry economic standpoint, as someone who is not a proponent, fundamentally, of excessive regulation or additional burdens on businesses, I believe this is absolutely the opposite. It is an essential lubrication to the opportunity for businesses to prosper and for more people to come back into the workforce. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, wisely said, it will allow us to raise the profile of carers. It will allow people to better understand the business case for being able to combine work and caring. It will also help businesses understand the importance of retaining their staff and engendering good relations with their employees. I am absolutely convinced, as are the Government, that the business case for this Bill is paramount and incontrovertible.

Secondly, the Bill reflects the relevant role that carers play in our society. I was appalled to hear of some of the costs that the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, mentioned, of between £10,000 and £20,000, the well-established losses to pension contributions, and the poverty levels in which many carers find themselves on account of having to give up work to do the right thing.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester raised a number of issues which have confluence with these points. I have not read the report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care. I would be grateful if he would be kind enough to make a copy available to me, and I will certainly invest some time in it.

Lord Fox (LD): I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for his contribution. He talked about valuing carers, and so many carers in the current situation do not feel valued by people around them. He talked about dignity, and I think part of what we are trying to do is create an element of dignity. The right reverend Prelate also talked about interdependence, with so many, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said, feeling lonely. These are key issues. This was picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who talked about her own personal experience, which was quite moving, as well as the wider issue about how this is a real challenge in the harder-to-reach communities in our society, and I thank her for her delivery. My noble friend Lady Tyler talked about not having to make the choice between caring and working, not having to walk out of your work because you cannot manage the process of day-to-day life.

I am now going to do what most Ministers seem to do, which is shuffle a few pieces of paper. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and everybody else for their support, but I did have some trepidation that one of your Lordships was going to come up, not necessarily with an excoriating review of what we had here but with a whole catalogue full of massive improvements. We all know there is more to be done, and I am sure, as I have just said, there will be lots of people wanting to suggest what that should be. But the sense I got from the Chamber is that there are not going to be lots of amendments coming forward, because the way we get this Bill through quickly, or indeed get it through at all, is without amendments—by accepting what we have and moving on. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, for her, I think, cry of: “Forwards. Let us seize the moment”. I ask your Lordships to join with us, with the Minister and me, to seize that moment, and I invite noble Lords to support a Second Reading of the Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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