We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.


Opinion Many carers feel isolated with no confidence after being out of paid work for so long

Caroline Lawless shares her experience of life as a carer and says more supports are needed for those returning to paid work.

THERE ARE OVER 500,000 family carers in Ireland – those of us who support or provide care for a person who needs it due to disability, ill-health, a long-term condition or difficulties of ageing without it being our ‘job’.

Millions of hours of care are provided by these family members, friends and neighbours every week. A lot of the time, we leave paid employment to do so – sometimes because we want to but often because we have no other choice.

While the role of a family carer is a demanding one, many carers do come to the stage when they wish to return to paid employment. This can come about for a number of reasons such as their caring role coming to an end – perhaps the person they have been caring for has passed away or is entering long-term care, or the person being cared for is becoming more independent.

In my case, my daughter was in school for longer days, and I really yearned to have something back for myself. When my daughter was born I had just finished a three-year degree and was ready to embark on a new career.

This was not meant to be, and like so many other family carers, I found myself in an unknown role without ever really making that decision.

My daughter was born with a rare genetic condition and needed a number of different supports and interventions to ensure that she would progress to the best of her ability. It was essential that one of her parents would be there for her on this journey and made the most sense that it would be me as I was not employed at the time and my husband had just started his own business. From that day on, not only was I her mum – I also became her carer.

Finding work

For family carers wishing to return to the workplace, it is tough to find a job that will allow them to work but also fulfil their caring role and earn enough money to survive in today’s economy.

Carers in receipt of Carers Allowance or Benefit are only allowed to work, volunteer or take part in a training or education course for a maximum of 18.5 hours per week, earning no more than €350 for a single person and €750 if they are married, in a civil partnership, or cohabiting, before their carer’s benefits begin to be decreased.

It does, however, need to be acknowledged that there is a huge lack of awareness among employers in relation to the limits that are set out around the hours a family carer can work per week and also the amount of money they are allowed to earn while they are in receipt of carer’s benefits.

Care Alliance Ireland, as part of the Kaleidoscope Project, hosted a webinar that focused on this particular issue, addressing the need for this to be overcome so that employers have a clear understanding of it. 

Companies were invited from all around the country to attend our webinar to make employers aware of the rules that family carers need to abide by when going back to employment. The webinar also highlighted the numerous transferable skills that a family carer can bring to the workplace such as advocacy, resilience, time management and commitment.

My own experience

After being in a caring role for over eight years at the time, I decided that I needed to go back to some sort of employment, not only for financial reasons but more for my own mental well-being.

I needed to regain the independence I once had, and also have an element in my life that was outside my caring role.

I interviewed for a course two years ago which focused on guiding family carers back to paid employment. The course was run by Care Alliance Ireland, an organisation that works to support and guide family carers in their caring role. I was successful at the interview and completed the 12-week Kaleidoscope course which was like no other course I had ever experienced.

The course content not only focused on the practical elements of returning to work like putting a CV together and interview preparation but also supported the mental well-being of the participants by providing access to Life Coaching sessions and psychological support. Many carers can feel isolated with a lack of confidence after being out of the paid workforce in a caring role. The entirety of the course was online which made it accessible for everyone across the country.

I loved having the time every week for myself when I was focused on something just for me. When the course came to an end I was exploring different ideas of what I would like to do next, while still being supported by the amazing project coordinator who was so genuinely invested in each and every participant, doing anything that she could to support each one of us to get to where we wanted to be at the end of the course.

Four months later a job was advertised within Care Alliance for a Project Assistant to co-facilitate cohort three of Kaleidoscope. The hours would still allow me to fulfil my caring role and also keep my Carers Allowance. I was successful at the interview and couldn’t believe that not only was I going back to work after being out of paid employment for over 10 years, but I was going to be doing something I loved while also being able to give back all of the learning and experience that I had gone through during the course and also in my caring role. I have never looked back and feel I would not be where I am today if I had not taken part in Kaleidoscope.

The 18.5 hour rule

The fact that carers are only allowed to work for 18.5 hours a week before they are at risk of losing their benefits needs to be highlighted to employers. As part of the Kaleidoscope Project, Care Alliance put together a Webinar in the hope to educate employers on this very topic, raising awareness around what the reality of going back to work looks like for a family carer.

The webinar also focused on all of the invaluable, transferable skills that a family carer has to offer to a future employer that may be looking for part-time staff.

Many businesses that we engaged with at the time of the webinar were not aware of the terms and conditions which must be met by family carers hoping to return to the workplace. Some employers we spoke to seemed very willing to take this on board and look at advertising part-time positions with the option of 18.5 hours.

Count on Us Recruitment is one of the few recruitment agencies in Ireland that specifically identifies part-time roles available for family carers, and they’re an excellent resource for both family carers looking to find employment, and also employers looking to advertise carer-friendly roles in their company. Building off their work in the last few years, Care Alliance is currently running a return-to-work project called Re-emerge, the next chapter is for you, combining the best parts of both their previous courses, Kaleidoscope and Return Ready.

While my caring role is a demanding one, I wouldn’t dream of letting anyone else take my place. I will be forever grateful to Care Alliance and Kaleidoscope for all of their support and for giving me a chance.

Working in a part-time role has given me back my independence and has had a hugely positive impact on my mental health. Given the fact that my employer is aware that I can work a maximum of 18.5 hours a week and has an understanding of what my caring role looks like, I can fully commit to and fulfil what is expected of me in my job role.

My employer supports me by giving me the flexibility to work from home and knows that if I have to bring my daughter for an appointment on a certain morning that I will make up the hours later in the day.

I feel at the end of the day it is largely about the employer having the knowledge around carers and the carer themselves being transparent from the beginning. This results in employers having happy, productive staff who feel supported and empowered in their roles.

I feel like I have a piece of myself back again that I had lost when I became a carer since I went back to work. It is both rewarding and empowering for me to have something for me that is outside of my caring role where I can apply the skills that I have learned through education, work experience, life learning and of course from my caring role.

Caroline Lawless is a part-time Project Assistant with Care Alliance Ireland, a full-time family carer to her daughter and a recently qualified Life Coach. Today, in its pre-budget submission, Family Carers Ireland urged the government to undertake a transformative and comprehensive overhaul of care in Ireland. 


Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel