To mark Carers Week, on Thursday 10 June, VOCAL brought together employers from across Scotland to discuss the opportunities for workplaces to support carers and the issue of gender balance in unpaid caring.

Joined by Caroline Lamb, Chief Executive of NHS Scotland and Director-General of Health and Social Care, the event focused on how government and employers can work collaboratively to deliver real measures which help unpaid carers.  

Vicky Zuiderent, Director of Vilosky, shared the challenges faced by female carers, who are disproportionally impacted by systemic gender inequality. She said:

There’s a legacy of devaluing work that is considered to be ‘for women’, borne out of the view that a woman’s place is at home and a man’s is at work. These harmful stereotypes impact the support given to male carers and the career progression, work opportunities and working patterns offered to women. When caring responsibilities are added to the mix, the ability to balance work with caring responsibilities can be seen as an impossible feat.

Vicky suggested that carers approach their employers to discuss their situation, to allow feedback and real experiences to form the basis of larger policy changes. Implementing change within the workplace needs to put unpaid carers at its heart and without their voice, there won’t be successful support measures.

Following Vicky’s discussion, Fiona MacFarlane shared her caring journey which spanned 40 years. Balancing caring with work – from her brother throughout his childhood to her father’s later life – has always been something that Fiona has done intrinsically. She explained:

I never recognised myself as a carer until 2017. Prior to this, I viewed my role as doing what any family member does. I have always had caring responsibilities of some sort and although it was difficult, having supportive employers with an understanding of my situation was so important.

The empathy shown by a few managers sticks with me today, and it is something I think every line manager should strive to not only consider what someone else is going through, but be flexible and understanding of working. Following these experiences, my loyalty to my manager was undivided. There is major value in recognising carers, beyond the economic.

Caroline Lamb completed the discussion with a short piece on the impact of the pandemic on carers. She said:

COVID-19 really shone a spotlight on unpaid caring, and the important role of carers in helping the most vulnerable in our communities. We recognise the additional pressure that the pandemic has placed on unpaid carers, and we appreciate their enormous contribution to society. We know that, as our population ages, more of us will have caring responsibilities and so, supporting unpaid carers’ health and wellbeing has never been so important.

Unfortunately, many carers find themselves forced to give up work due to the burden of unpaid caring, and this causes financial insecurity for them and their families.  Carers can be supported to continue to make a valuable contribution to the workforce, but this means that employers need to be agile, and responsive to differing situations.  Government and employers need to come together to ensure that policy developments have a positive impact on carers, and I hope to see more done in the future.  I particularly want to encourage as many employers as possible to sign up to the Carer Positive scheme.

Thank you to all of our speakers, and delegates who joined our Supporting Employers, Supporting Carers session. It was fantastic to see such engaged discussions on moving from recognition to rights, and the need for more radical thinking in response to emerging evidence that, during the pandemic, women are more likely to have lost or given up work to care.  

To read more about VOCAL’s work with employers and the steps you can take to support unpaid carers in your organisation, please visit our website: