Centrica is working alongside Carers UK in a bid to help one million carers remain in or return to work by 2020. Centrica chief executive Iain Conn has written a letter, co-signed by Carers UK chief executive Helen Walker, to chief executives of the UK’s 100 largest employers, encouraging more support for carers and the opening of a dialogue around experiences and the best practices.

The companies are also calling on the government to introduce five to ten days of mandatory paid carers leave for all employers.

In the letter, Iain Conn writes: “We are focused on retaining a diverse and skilled workforce through our carers policy which includes flexible working and a carers network. We have announced a change to our carers leave policy to give our employees more time off to care for their loved ones without using their holiday allowances. We will be applying these principles across Centrica globally. We believe it’s the right thing for businesses to do and at Centrica we want to support our employees and share best practices with other employers.”

Carers UK estimate that the number of people balancing work duties with care responsibilities has risen to over five million people from the three million identified in 2011. A further 2.6 million people have been forced to stop working altogether due to the demands of caring.

According to Centrica estimates, UK companies could save up to £4.8 billion per year in unplanned absences and a further £3.4 billion in employee retention by adopting flexible working policies that support those with caring responsibilities.

The changes to Centrica’s policy will give employees more paid leave without them needing to use their annual leave allowances. It will now offer ten days paid leave to all carers, followed by another ten days that can be taken if matched with annual leave.

Prior to this change, Centrica employees would have to use a day of their annual leave for every one of the of the 20 days of paid leave they used. A further change it has made is offering flexible working from day one of becoming a carer and a carers network which offers peer support.

Walker said: “More than 600 people give up work every day to care for a loved one, often taking with them skills and years of experience.  Whether looking after a partner receiving hospital treatment, or supporting parents to live independently at home, a right to five to ten days paid care leave could make all the difference to a member of staff juggling work and care.

“It’s important now more than ever that the government and employers support the rising number of carers to remain in work. It makes good business sense and helps families who are caring. The consequences of failing to do so are huge.”

In April, Centrica’s annual report revealed that Iain Conn received a 44 per cent pay rise in 2018 after being awarded two £388,000 bonuses, despite the company’s “mixed” performance. Five days earlier the company announced that 500 UK jobs were at risk.

In response, trade union Unison called on Centrica’s shareholders to block the pay rise at the next AGM.