Having failed to introduce its much-vaunted employment bill, the government last week decided to give its backing to a private member’s bill which aims to provide carers with five days leave from work per year.

The Carer’s Leave Bill, introduced by Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain, which passed its second reading last week, will introduce an entitlement of one week’s unpaid leave per year for employees who are providing or arranging care and will be available to eligible employees from the first day of their employment. Staff will be able to take the leave flexibly to suit their caring responsibilities and will not need to provide evidence of how the leave is used or who it will be used for, ensuring a smoother process for both businesses and their employees.

As Chamberlain made clear in her speech last week, the demand for greater support for carers is huge. In 2016, the Office for National Statistics estimated that the gross value of unpaid care in the UK was almost £60 billion, a figure that can only have increased in the last six years. This new legislative measure is, therefore, likely to be welcomed by the millions of people across the UK who are currently providing unpaid care to dependent family members or friends.

However, as she also pointed out in her speech, this proposed legislation is just filling a small hole where the government’s much bigger employment bill should have been. It is also, at least as far as the Lib Dems are concerned, just the first step towards enacting a much more comprehensive leave policy under which more leave would be provided and carers would be entitled to be paid.

Around two million of those providing unpaid care are thought to be doing so while balancing work alongside their caring responsibilities. With no dedicated statutory leave entitlement for these informal carers currently in place, many have to resort to taking other forms of leave to ensure they can care for those who are dependent on them.

It is worth noting that the European Union also introduced specific leave for carers as part of a directive which took effect in 2019 (in other words, three years ago), providing carers with five working days of leave each year. It also recommends that member states make the right available to other relatives, such as grandparents and siblings, as well as the workers themselves.

To read the bill in full, click here.

To read the directive in full, click here.