Helping a sick or elderly, dependent relative is not something new, but the terms that designate this practice are quite recent i.e. carer (informal carer, natural carer and family carer). We hear this said more and more often, in reform projects, in studies or in quality of work life agreements signed with companies. Proof that having someone who needs help in your family or people around you can no longer be considered a problem confined to the private sphere.

8 to 11 million carers in France

Carers are people who regularly help, on a non-professional basis, a relative, friend, neighbour or spouse who is becoming dependent, due to age, illness or disability. In 90% of cases, the carer is a family member. According to a BVA barometer, there are now between 8 and 11 million carers in France, or one in 6 of the population. A figure set to go up and up with the effects of population ageing. In fact, by 2050 there will be three times as many people over 85 as there are today. However, today, 8 out of 10 carers feel that they do not get sufficient help nor consideration from the public authorities.

Paid carer leave scheduled for October

With this situation in mind, the French government has drawn up a Mobilisation and support strategy for carers.  A group of seventeen “key measures” which aim in particular to break the isolation of carers, offer them respite solutions, give them access to information, support or even training … The most spectacular measure seems to be, from October 2020, paid leave of up to three months for carers. People in salaried employment who help a dependent relative, on a frequent and regular basis, will be able to receive a daily benefit of € 43 if living as a couple or € 52 for a single person, paid by the family allowance institutions (CAF or MSA). Leave can be split into periods to meet specific needs, or spread over time so as to reorganise one’s time around a part-time job. Unless an employee can prove there is urgency, he or she will have to tender one month’s notice to their employer. The eligibility conditions and benefit amounts will be confirmed by government decree this September.

Business called upon to join the collective effort

These measures put a load of new constraints on businesses; e.g. the need to include compensation for carers on the agenda for compulsory annual staff negotiations. It is also a chance for them to tackle a real but invisible problem. 61% of carers are in employment but 44% of them say they have a problem in reconciling their role with their working life. Some of them neglect their own health, whilst several studies on absenteeism point out that problems with a relative aggravate this. 25% of carers have had to take time off work during the last 12 months to care for a relative, for an average period of 16 days.

Several large companies, such as PSA, have announced a significant section in favour of carers as part of negotiations on quality of work life agreements including: recognition, support, advice and special arrangements for employees in cases of acute dependency of the person being helped. As part of its work life programme (GPS), Gerep also offers solutions to better reconcile private and working life, and to provide practical support to employees or help in dealing with temporary difficulties. Carers have for a long time been invisible in companies dragging such constraints like a ball and chain, but now they are coming into the limelight with a few added privileges. The status of carer is now firmly anchored in the quality of work life discussion and will not to away. There is now a substantial, irreversible trend. The health and well-being of staff is also the employer’s business.

Damien Vieillard-Baron

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