Bishop Martyn speaks in favour of the Carers' Leave Bill

Bishop Martyn spoke in the House of Lords today in favour of the Carers' Leave Bill which, if passed, would give employees the right to a week's leave to help them manage their caring responsibilities. In his speech, Bishop Martyn referenced the experiences and voices of colleagues and church-members within the Diocese who have experience of caring for loved ones, and the Archbishop's Commission on Reimagining Care.

You can read the speech below:

"My Lords, I am pleased to speak in wholehearted support of this Bill. It’s been a pleasure hearing other speeches in your noble Lords House, and to receive briefings on this significant area of our common on life. I look forward to hearing other speeches, and add my thanks to those who have brought forward this 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 might be hoped, as the noble 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: the provision of leave to anyone with caring responsibilities, not just those who care for people within their household; guaranteeing this leave as a day-one right; and 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.

My Lords, I would like to draw your attention to the Church of England’s Commission on Reimagining Care. The report, entitled 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 was among the Commissions’ recommendations. 

And that report, like the authors and champions of this Bill, recognises the difficulties of juggling responsibilities to one’s employer 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 a loved one. If they do so, they have further financial pressures added to their load. In return for providing care worth £132 billion per year, more than a million unpaid carers are living in poverty. 
There are psychological and spiritual, as well as financial, benefits for being able to stay in work, as one of my colleagues, Carolyn, who cares for her son, told me. “For many carers”, including herself, she said, “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 include colleagues at work.
Having the right to a week’s leave will therefore help many unpaid carers to continue working, with the support to their wellbeing 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 retraining point, I believe, to the spiritual truth that no one is a fungible economic unit.

I know that I, and my Diocese, would be much poorer without people like Carolyn, without their compassion, empathy, sensitivity and wisdom. It is not that she enriches us 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 to the Archbishops’ Commission, their 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. The wider values-based vision of the Commission encourages a revolution in our attitudes towards disability and ageing, recognising that every single person has equal value and dignity, and must be treated as such. The vision includes the aim to make social care a universal entitlement, and that this should be person-centred care, designed with people and 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 the Government but of all of us as citizens and neighbours.

My Lords, I commend the Archbishops’ report to you as it outlines both the fundamental values and the specific steps which could bring a compassionate, inclusive and sustainable care system into being. And I would invite employers to venture beyond the letter of this 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 wellbeing of others."

You can watch the speech here.

First published on: 3rd March 2023
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