How can we support people returning to work after taking time out to care for others?

How can we support people returning to work after taking time out to care for others?

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) today published a report commissioned from Frontier Economics presenting research on the characteristics of “potential returners” (those who have been economically inactive for more than year because of caring responsibilities) and the timing and nature of return to work for this group.

The GEO was allocated £5 million in the 2017 Spring Budget to support people back into work after time out from the labour market to care for others. This study seeks to build an understanding of the types of individuals that may be looking for and could benefit from such support.

The research analysed historical data on potential returners from ten years of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) covering 2007 to 2017. The LFS is a large-scale survey of the UK population, interviewing individuals for five consecutive quarters which meant that the movements of potential returners back into work could be tracked over time.

The key findings were:

  • Around 15 percent of all economically inactive individuals of working age are potential returners, corresponding to approximately 1.2 million individuals in the UK.
  • Most potential returners are female (91 percent) and most are mothers with dependent children (84 percent). But they also tend to have characteristics typically associated with limited work opportunities such as low qualifications.
  • Potential returners tend to have poorer work characteristics (lower weekly hours, lower hourly wages, lower proportions in permanent or supervisory work) when they do return to work than workers that didn’t take time off. Potential returners also tend to be in lower occupations even prior to the period of absence from work.
  • The analysis did not find any critical times when potential returners are more likely to return to work. Most are prepared to re-enter work within one to five years but not in the coming year.

Overall, our study suggests that a combination of caring responsibilities and limited work opportunities may be the key barrier to returning to work, indicating that a combination of support may therefore be the most effective approach to assist a return to work.

Frontier regularly works on matters relating to pay, labour markets and wider public policy for the private and public sectors.

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