More than 20,000 people in the Swindon area are unpaid carers, and many struggle to juggle their caring responsibilities with holding down a job – leading to stress and exhaustion.

Often employers do not even know an employee is a carer, or do not consider the effect caring might have. Now Swindon Carers Centre is determined to change this for the better with their pilot scheme for a new Swindon Employers Care Award.

Just like their earlier Young Carer Award, designed to help schools support pupils who were also carers, the new award will support employers in recognising and valuing carers in the workplace, so they can better balance their work lives and caring roles.

“We really need to replicate this because employers are losing good staff,” explained Fiona Prinzi, deputy CEO at Swindon Carers Centre.

“Carers can ask for reasonable adjustments in the workplace – that’s their right – but it’s important they feel they can have that conversation with their line manager. We want companies to create a framework to allow them to have that conversation – if they want it.”

Fiona gave the example of a carer with a full-time job who, after a long day at work, has to drive across town to visit the home of a relative, cook and care for them every evening, and then drive back home at night in time to go to bed and get up again for work. Or some carers, who worked at night, so they could fulfil caring duties in the day.

“A lot of male carers work night shifts, so they can be carers in the day – that’s not sustainable. Imagine what could happen if they are working with machinery or driving?” she said.

A carer is someone who provides unpaid care for a family member or friend, who has a long term illness, disability, mental health problem or drug or alcohol dependency issues, and cannot cope without their support.

Carers are the largest source of support in the UK, so it is in everyone’s interest to support them. Many carers need extra support to return to the workplace if they have lost employment due to caring, or employer support and understanding, to prevent carers themselves becoming exhausted and unwell, which can be damaging to both the home and work environment.

Swindon Carers Centre provides support to over 4,000 carers, to ensure they are recognised, valued and supported. Anyone can become a carer at any time, and around one in eight of us is a carer.

A survey of carers in 2013, which asked about support from employers, said 45 per cent of carers had given up work because of their caring responsibilities, and 42 per cent had reduced their working hours. Caring had impacted negatively on their promotion chances, according to 34 per cent, and 60 per cent had reduced incomes because of being a carer.

In 2017, Swindon Carers Centre worked with Swindon Borough Council and their carers group to create an award for employers in Swindon. The pilot version award has three standards, covering four areas: Leadership and Management, Identification and Support for Carers, Developing Organisation to meet Need, and Carer Involvement.

An employer would need to show how they supported carers in each of these key areas, and how thinking about carers’ needs was embedded in the culture of the business, in order to achieve the accreditation.

Fiona said that listening to carers lay at the heart of the award at every stage.

“The carers’ voices are key. It is important for us to design something that comes from the experience of carers in the workplace,” she explained. “We support carer involvement, staff awareness, and training about people with caring roles.”

Fiona said: “When we have spoken to employees about their caring roles, sometimes it is the first time they have verbalised what they are doing, and that makes it real. When we ask, ‘So who is looking after you?’, that’s when you get the tears.”

She said a lot of carers struggled: “There is also joy in that role – it isn’t easy but it’s a person they love who they are caring for. But they need a break, to time to be themselves.”

Employers might be able to help by offering different start and finish times, for example, or some home working.

Chris Woodward, public health project manager at Swindon Borough Council, said their carers’ forum had been very valuable, offering a space to employees to share experiences and offer support. She said it was also beneficial for employers.

“We don’t want to lose highly skilled members of staff because they have caring responsibilities,” she said.

“There was a carers’ award for schools but not something in business, and in time we hope to have this award employers can sign up to. It will help young carers moving into employment, and with an ageing population, there will be more people with caring responsibilities.

“We know people who leave work [because of caring responsibilities] often end up having poorer mental health and less money, and are more isolated, so we need to be supporting them to stay in work.”

The borough council’s forum for carers was set up in June 2016, and has between 16 and 20 people signed up at any one time.

Swindon Borough Council, Intel, Swindon NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Nationwide have all signed up for the pilot. The results will be published this autumn, and then the award scheme will be rolled out to all Swindon employers.

Coun Brian Ford, cabinet member for Adults’ Health and Social Care, said: “With so many people having to juggle caring responsibilities with their work life, it’s so important for businesses to support their employees who are also carers.

“I am pleased that throughout the past year we’ve worked with Swindon Carers Centre to develop this award to help employers to effectively support carers in the workplace by encouraging flexible working and working from home, for example.”

To find out more about the Swindon Employers Care Award, email and for information about the Swindon Carers Centre, visit