The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said women in their 50s are being pushed out of work because of the need to balance work and caring responsibilities.
It calls these women the ‘sandwich generation’ – faced with caring for both grandchildren and elderly parents. They are having to take career breaks but then finding it impossible to get back into the job market before retirement.
The IPPR has called for six months of parental leave to be transferable in specific circumstances. It said this would help mothers under 18, those in apprenticeships and single parents. It would mean grandparents have a statutory right to return to their jobs.
Its report The Sandwich Generation said there has been a rise in care provided by grandparents in recent years, with half of new mothers depending on informal care by grandparents. Grandmothers who care for their grandchildren are more likely to be younger, in work, and belong to low-income households. Two thirds (66%) of grandmothers who provide between 10–19 hours of childcare a week earn less than £25,999, compared to the 25% who earn £44,000 or more.
Three quarters of grandparents care for their grandchildren, but more than one in four (28%) of those with grandchildren under 16 also have a parent who is still alive.
Older women are more likely to provide care than men – with a 50/50 chance of having at last one sustained period of caring by the age of 59. The IPPR said 17% of unemployed women gave up work to care, compared with 1% of men. Figures show there are now 152,000 women over 50 unemployed and looking for work – almost twice as many as in 2008. Of those 68,000 have been looking for more than a year.
Dalia Ben-Galim, IPPR associate director, said: “Allowing parents to transfer some of their parental leave to their children’s grandparents would help more women in their 50s to stay in work. This so called ‘sandwich generation’ are having to work themselves or are taking career breaks in their 50s in order to help their daughters get back to work after having children and minimise their ‘motherhood pay penalty’. But women over 50 find it very difficult to get back into work themselves and are too often forced into early retirement.”
The IPPR also pointed to the German Familienpflegezeit (family caring time) scheme as a possible solution for some of the problems facing the British workforce. It allows eligible employees to reduce their working time to a minimum of 15 hours for up to 2 years if they need to care for a dependent. Employees are eligible either through a collective agreement or individual contract and are paid a lower income (although the reduction in income is less than the reduction in hours). When they return to full-time work, employees continue to receive reduced earnings to pay back the difference.
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