Carers do a deeply meaningful job, and often with enormous cost to themselves. There are almost 1.5 million carers supporting a loved one with cancer in the UK. Our research shows that half of them are juggling a job with caring, and many tell us this is having a real impact on their working lives. At Macmillan, we believe that carers shouldn't lose out for being the unsung heroes and the back-bone of care in our communities, so on this Carer's Rights Day, I'd like to ask cancer carers one question - do you know your rights?
Knowing your rights as a carer can make a significant difference to your everyday life. For example, did you know that carers are protected from discrimination in the workplace by law? Carers have the right to take time off to care for a loved one in an emergency. They may have the right to access additional financial support in the form of a Carers Allowance. Carers also have the right to a Carers Assessment which can lead to statutory support such as respite breaks. If they're the main carer, they might also be entitled to something as seemingly small as a free flu jab.
Dawn, 52, from Lancashire, is testament to the fact that knowing your rights can make life just that little bit easier.
Dawn started caring for her husband Michael when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, in April this year. Sadly, shortly after his diagnosis, Dawn and their children were hit with the devastating news that Michael's cancer was terminal. As his condition deteriorated, her duties as a carer increased. She'd clean and dress and help Michael with his medication, and in doing so became one of an estimated 700,000 cancer carers who juggle caring with working - in her case a full-time job.
Not surprisingly, Dawn soon found that she was spending her day at work fraught with worry. Was Michael managing on his own? She'd call him throughout the day and if he didn't answer, she'd think the worst and hurry home. Dawn didn't know whether she should continue to work or stay at home to care for Michael. Although her employers were very supportive, she was kept up at night by the fear of losing her job because of all the time she needed off to look after Michael or due to the painful episodes he'd experience at night.
Dawn was so tired emotionally and physically that eventually her GP insisted she take time off work. Michael spent his last few days in a hospice and Dawn spent every day by his side. Juggling work with visiting him would have been impossible. Michael sadly passed away after five days in the hospice. Reeling from such a huge loss Dawn began a phased return to work. Dawn's story shows the anxiety that many carers feel about working and caring for a loved one, and highlights the importance of knowing that carers do have rights to request flexible working arrangements. This might involve working from home, or working a shorter week, as different arrangements will suit different people.
This is just one of many rights that can make a huge difference to the life of a busy carer. If you're supporting a loved one with cancer, find out about your rights. If your friend or family member is a carer or you work with someone who is a carer, make sure they know they have rights.
If you are caring for a loved one with cancer and finding it difficult to juggle work, pay the bills, or just need some support and don't know what your rights are, call Macmillan's support line on 0808 808 00 00 to talk to one of our trained experts. You can also visit macmillan.org.uk/carers to find out more about working and caring.