Carers could soon be using smart phones, email alerts and pop-up care centres to help them plan and co-ordinate formal and informal support.
Ministers have launched a series of pilots exploring ways to help carers balance work with their caring responsibilities. The ideas will be trialled as part of £1.6 million of pilot projects announced by Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, and Norman Lamb, Minister for Care and Support at the Department for Health.
National statistics show that there are 5.4 million carers in England and 57.7% are female. Caring responsibilities fall most heavily on women aged 50-64 and 12.1% of women work full time alongside their caring responsibilities.
There are more than three million people who currently have work and family caring responsibilities. Giving them support to manage caring alongside paid work would benefit them and their families and give British businesses and the UK economy potential saving of up to £1.3 billion a year.
The nine pilot areas will explore how technology can be combined with professional support from the Local Authority and the assistance of informal networks of friends, neighbours and Time Bank volunteers to ease the pressure of caring. For example, one pilot will monitor cared for adults by telephone every day at an agreed time, then contact the carer by email or text to confirm that they do not need assistance.
The pilots will also explore how businesses can give employees with caring responsibilities more help, for example by promoting flexible working patterns and setting up carers 'surgeries'. One pilot will also set up a pop up business school to help carers set up in self-employment.
There will be nine pilot sites across the country: North Tyneside; Northamptonshire; Cheshire West; Gateshead; Bury; North Somerset; South Gloucestershire; Staffordshire and Stoke; and Sefton.
Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, said: "Women often find themselves caring for both older relatives and children; juggling work and caring can be enormously stressful. These pilot projects are designed to test how that pressure can be eased and allow people to balance their caring responsibilities with their jobs and families.
Carers who feel forced to leave their jobs are a real loss to the workforce and economy. We want to give people the peace of mind about their loved ones that helps them keep their jobs."
The start of these pilots coincides with the announcement of a new pledge to support carers under the Public Health Responsibility Deal's health at work Network. The Network has broadened its existing pledge on chronic conditions to include an element that supports unpaid carers. The pledge sets out to improve the workplace support employers provide for people with long-term/chronic conditions (such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease) by asking employers to embed some basic principles for managing these conditions within their standard HR procedures. The pledge will also now aim to improve the workplace support that employers provide for carers so that they can care more effectively; look after their own health and wellbeing; fulfil their employment potential; and have a life of their own alongside their caring responsibilities.
Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb, said: "Too many carers find it difficult to balance their important caring roles with their work commitments. This has costly implications not only for them, but for our businesses and economy too.
Our Care Act will provide more support to carers than ever before by working with people, their employers and communities. This project will help us to build a stronger economy and a fairer society."
The Government's Business Champion for Older Workers, Dr Ros Altmann, said: "In my role, I have heard from many carers who tell me that they want to get back into work. Employers are waking up to the energy and enthusiasm of older workers, but they sometimes need to make allowances for extra caring responsibilities they may have.
Those bosses who are ready to help their employees move to part-time or flexible hours are seeing their staff paying them back in spades with loyalty and by adding value to their company.
These pilots are an exciting step forward to give us the chance to see how we can educate employers and provide specialist support for all carers to stay in employment."
This support builds on the Care Act which will come into force on 1 April 2015 and puts carers on a par with the people they support with regard to their health and well-being and local councils will have a duty to meet carers' eligible needs for support.
It also follows other action the government has taken to ensure women are not disadvantaged in the workplace because of caring responsibilities. Shared parental leave came into effect earlier this year, and Tax Free Childcare will offer up to £2000 of support for almost 2 million families when it comes into effect next year.
These pilots will begin shortly and will run for 2 years.