A deeper dialogue needs to happen between employers and employees of what the day-to-day responsibilities carers undertake alongside their film or television work actually entail. Only then will we start to see a little empathy begin to bloom.
In a world where juggling child support with employment is still, sadly, an epic challenge for many parents, spare a thought for the millions of young and adult carers whose needs are also often overlooked by the Industry. As a carer myself, I realised quite early on in my career that employers rarely took into account the challenges and hurdles that the carers amongst their workforce had to overcome. On one occasion in my early twenties I fought through four interviews to obtain a “dream” job as a personal assistant to the CEO in what continues to be one of the UK’s leading entertainment companies. However, I was later fired from my post for taking leave to take care of a family member when she became, suddenly, very ill. After I left, the CEO told a lot of people in the Industry that I had suffered “some kind of breakdown”, and I found myself unemployed, rather ruthlessly blacklisted and deemed unemployable at just 24 years old. I was devastated, and angry – they hadn’t taken my responsibilities as a carer into account in making their decision to let me go. They hadn’t even got the story right about who, exactly, was ill – not that it should have been an issue to fire me if it had actually been me. But in hindsight as the years went by I was forced to reflect on whether I had actually made my former employers fully aware of the double life I was leading in the first place. I realised that it was our job, as carers, to educate the Industry ourselves.
Moving forwards from that event, I made it VERY clear I was a carer in every job I occupied, going as far as to write an autobiographical film, “I Don’t Care”, for Channel 4, a radio play about Carers for the BBC, and an episode of “EastEnders” focusing on the infamous Stacey Slater’s past caring for her mum, Jean. But I have still found there to be a negative stigma attached to being a carer that too often rears its ugly head too; turning down an invitation to a story conference, networking event or development meeting because you are booked to take your friend or family member to a hospital appointment, or are nursing them through another bad spell of health, rests uneasy with many television producers who mark you down as someone who isn’t fully committed.
Not unlike a single parent with a young child, if a television writer who cares for someone with a long term health condition needs to make a trip across the UK to meet with a client, alternative arrangements for care need to be made for the individual they care for. In an Industry where writers are expected to attend meetings at extremely short notice, and an increasing number of creatives are unable to afford London housing and are moving to regions further away, this is a much more difficult task than it sounds. Added to these complications is the fact that the UK’s army of unpaid carers are from some of the nation’s most low income households – surviving primarily on state benefits in the form of Carer’s Allowance.
The Industry would do well, perhaps, to be a little more empathetic in its dealings with carers and introduce guidelines and policies on how individual companies and studios support “carer-talent”, such as a greater willingness to undertake story conferences or meetings over Skype, a blanket ruling to reimburse travel costs to development meetings, or a contribution towards the fees a private care-agency will charge to step into the fold whilst the carer is away on business. Ultimately, a deeper dialogue needs to happen between employers and employees of what the day-to-day responsibilities carers undertake alongside their film or television work actually entail. Only then will we start to see a little empathy begin to bloom in the Industry, and a greater awareness of how lucky employers are to have such strong, determined and capable young men and women on their team.
Thank goodness, then, that in the meantime we have the Film and Television Charity and it’s commitment to supporting those of us in society who work in the Industry in spite of somewhat challenging circumstances. The new “Family Support Fund” is a very welcome addition to the schemes already on offer from this charitable trust. Having been helped myself by the John Brabourne Award, I know only too well how receiving financial assistance to write is of significant importance to creating our next generation of screenwriters from low income households, in particularly young adult and adult carers alike. Congratulations to the Film and Television Charity for thinking in broad terms about the far-reaching effects a serious illness or disability can have on a family unit, and offering support to all involved in their collective journey towards recovery.