West Dunbartonshire Council, Winner 2016, The Carers UK Best for Carers and Eldercare Award

Key features

  • A strategy born out of a need to support the high number of carers employed by the Council while also retaining them and increasing their engagement.
  • A pioneering leave scheme enabling unpaid leave to be spread across a long period of time to minimise financial impact and preserve continuous employment.
  • The development of a carers’ network, which is supported by agencies including Macmillan and the Money Advice Service.
  • The carers’ network now has a consultation role in policy development.

West Dunbartonshire Council’s ‘We Care that You Care’ strategy has been developed to address a real need. West Dunbartonshire has life expectancy rates that are significantly worse than the Scottish average and there are high levels of poor health. With 85 per cent of employees living and working in West Dunbartonshire, the impact of these estimates is immense. The challenge was to identify carers and to support them, within the context of the Council’s key strategic priority, which is to significantly reduce absence levels across the organisation.

The We Care that You Care strategy is a pioneering programme of support, which launched in February 2015. It includes a Carers’ Leave Scheme and an Employee Carers’ Support Network. The benefits have been reduced absence levels and increased employee engagement and retention, with limited financial impact upon the Council.

The Council found that some carers just could not continue to work due to their caring demands. It developed the Carers’ Leave Scheme, the first project within the We Care that You Care strategy. The scheme allows employees to spread the cost of unpaid leave across a long period, thus minimising financial impact on the employee. It also allows employment to be continuous and protects the employee accordingly. The leave scheme has also assisted managers and employees in approaching discussions in an open and honest way and has given managers the tools to adopt a flexible approach to support the employee.

The second strand of the strategy has been the Employee Carers’ Support Network. With the support of external agencies, the network meets monthly to allow employee carers to meet, chat and liaise with other employee carers and external agencies over a cup of tea in an informal setting.  The monthly meetings are facilitated by HR and attended by Carers of West Dunbartonshire, Macmillan and the Money and Welfare Advice Service This allows access to practical and financial information and provides the means of making contact with these groups during the working day.  This is a great support for many of the carers whose caring responsibilities begin as soon as work is over, leaving little or no time for themselves. The network continues to grow in membership as word of mouth communication spreads to complement the more formal approach to communication.

Following the success of the Employee Carers’ Support Network, the Council decided to further develop and empower the group by asking them to help shape Council policy going forward.  They now have a Carer Consultation Network in place which has had a consultative role in the development of relevant organisational policies, ensuring employees with caring responsibilities have a direct voice on employment matters that affect them.