What is driving demand for eldercare as a workplace benefit?

By 2017, the number of older people needing care will outstrip the number of adult offspring that are able to provide it, according to the Institute of Public Policy Research’s (IPPR) The generation strain: Collective solutions to care in an ageing society, published in April. 


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  • The number of people needing care will outstrip the family members able to provide it.
  • Eldercare is the fatest-growing perk in flexible benefits plans.
  • Demand is driven by the UK’s ageing demographic, the growing number of users of health and social care, and the ’sandwich generation’.
  • Not enough eldercare-related benefits are available to cope with demand.

The UK’s ageing demographic means there will be an increasing number of users of health and social care services, as well as a growing ’sandwich generation’ (aged 30 to 60) who need to manage their work-life balance better to cope with the care of children and of elderly relatives.

But the IPPR research points out: “By 2032, 1.1 million older people in England will need care from their families (an increase of 60%), but the number of people able to care for older parents will have increased by only 20%, creating a shortfall in our collective capacity to care for older generations.”

Given this widening gap, it is not surprising to see a rise in demand for eldercare-related employee benefits. According to the Employee Benefits/Towers Watson Flexible Benefits Research 2014, published in April, emergency eldercare within flex plans is set to grow by 142%. 

Although eldercare is potentially one of the UK’s fastest-growing employee benefits, relatively few employers offer it. The abovementioned research showed that just 9% of organisations offer eldercare as a flex option, although 10% plan to add it to their scheme. More tellingly, Employee Benefits ’ annual Benefits Research 2014, published in May, found that only 4% of respondents offer eldercare in any form as a core benefit and 3% offer it as a voluntary benefit.

Chris Minett, a director at The Positive Ageing Company, says: “This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for employers. A lot of organisations do not help or promote eldercare despite there being a big business case for it around improved productivity and retention.”

Psychological wellbeing

Research published in May by Allianz Global Assistance and Yecco found that 48% of people expressed an interest in receiving an elderly emergency care policy as an employee benefit. Providing eldercare as a benefit can help to improve employees’ financial and psychological wellbeing, says Minnett.

Carole Edmond, managing director at Bright Horizons, adds: “Employees’ resilience and energy can be depleted by worry, particularly if they face conflicting demands.”

Imperial College London is one employer that has been proactive on eldercare. In January, it introduced an emergency child and eldercare service, through which staff can access emergency childcare, school holiday cover and back-up adult and eldercare, provided by My Family Care..

The most pressing need for employers is to adapt their eldercare benefits to help staff throughout their caring duties, not just offering help when there is an emergency.

The rising demand for eldercare as a benefit could result in new types of cover being available in the market.

Ben Black, director at My Family Care, says: “Emergency eldercare is there to cover employees when something goes wrong, but employers could do more to provide information. It is always helpful to have employees that have been, or are, in the same situation who can talk about it. It is about raising awareness to avoid employees becoming stressed, which can help cope with the demand.”

The need for eldercare is clear. According to the 2011 Census of England and Wales, one in nine employees in any workforce will either be caring for someone who is ill, frail or has a disability, or will leave work to become a carer. The census found that of the 5.4 million carers in England and Wales, 3 million are in work and 1.4 million would be in work if they had suitable support.

Hidden carers

But The Positive Ageing Company’s Minett says there are also many employees who are classed as hidden carers, and employers need to know how to recognise them. “Up until now, employers have not had to have these conversations with employees,” he says. “They are okay with childcare issues now, but the issue of eldercare has not happened but will need to, because of the increasing demand.” 

The greater focus on working parents means that childcare is more readily available as a workplace benefit than eldercare. The Benefits Research 2014 shows that 78% of respondents offer childcare vouchers as a voluntary benefit, making it the most commonly offered voluntary perk.

My Family Care’s Black says: “Employers have to identify who a carer is. Everyone knows who the parents are, but knowing that an organisation is helping employees with their eldercare will help.”

Minett says that despite high demand for eldercare, not enough relevant benefits are available. “The ageing population and workforce will continue to threaten business performance if more benefits are not offered to help employees [with eldercare],” he says.

“It has to happen. There are simply not enough [eldercare benefits] available, despite employee assistance programmes now introducing services to support carers.”

Bright Horizons’ Edmond says eldercare benefits can help employers to retain staff, achieve work goals and improve employee wellbeing. “Providing eldercare enables staff to work when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to,” she says. “This is a relatively new employee benefit, but demand for it has grown.”