The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 is now law, but as a Liberal Democrat, I know there is more to do, writes Wendy Chamberlain MP

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 is now law. Odd words which I’m still not yet used to saying. I am a 2019 backbench MP, and yet last year I brought a Private Member’s Bill and now it is law. It is an incredible privilege.

Even for those used to Westminster’s idiosyncrasies, the PMB ballot is an oddity. A Clerk, donned in white gloves drawsballs from a glass bowl to determine the 20 lucky MPs who have priority time with their bills over the next session. I was lucky enough to come 11th and therefore got the 10th slot.

The decision to introduce a right to carer’s leave was straight forward to me. The Liberal Democrats have long championed the rights of unpaid carers, no more so than under the leadership of Ed Davey. However, they have been too often left out of Government employment policy, especially with the Employment Bill being well and truly lodged in the long grass.

To pass, Private Members Bills need to be discrete, have no financial implications, and have a hope of cross-party support. All possible, as carer’s leave had already been consulted upon by the Government. And so I determined that if the Government didn’t want to use any of their political will or parliamentary time to support unpaid carers, then I would use every bit of what I had for them.

And wonderfully, here we are! After years of hard work by campaigners and charities, not least Carers UK who have been invaluable over the past year, we have a new law for unpaid carers and their first dedicated statutory employment rights. I am incredibly proud that we have reached this significant milestone.

The law itself is simple. It provides the right to take 5 days of unpaid leave from work, as a day one right, to anyone who is reasonably expected to provide long term care to someone as a result of old age or disability.

Simple, but with the potential to be life changing, as I have heard time and time again over the past year. I have met withconstituents who worry about employers running out of patience when they need to leave work to take elderly parents to the memory clinic; who are using up all their annual leave to support family members receiving hospital treatment; and those who have already found it too hard to balance work with caring for their loved ones but who feel this law would have helped them if they had had its benefit.

Amongst the many thanks I need to give as we reach this milestone, are those to the businesses I have met over the past year. The businesses who already provide carer’s leave – often paid, a vital next step – and who have told me of the benefits it brings them. Our economy still faces challenges after last year’s disastrous “not a budget” mini-budget. There are labour shortages across the spectrum, and recruitment costs are high. Providing support to employees who are unpaid carers, including carer’s leave, is key to fostering a motivated, dedicated, and loyal workforce. Put another way – it’s a win win for employers and employees alike.

Caring is universal. There are an estimated 2.4 million unpaid carers currently in employment, and more who might seek to find their way back with the right support. Indeed, most of us will at some point in our lives either care or be cared for, if not both. The vast majority of us also need to – and want to – work. Making that balance easier is the most logical solution, and what my new law will help achieve.

While it may have taken far too long to get here, I’m glad we’ve finally arrived. Of course, there is still more to do. The Liberal Democrats will continue to campaign for paid carer’s leave; and outside of employment law we need to see reforms to Carer’s Allowance; more respite and wrap around support;and properly funded social care. But the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 is a vital first step, and one which I am proud to have played a part in on behalf of the millions of carers up and down the country.

Wendy Chamberlain MP

Wendy Chamberlain is the Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, and has been an MP continuously since 12 December 2019. She currently undertakes the roles of Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), and Liberal Democrat Chief Whip.