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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Women over 50 hit by 'triple whammy' of work, childcare & social care

Transferable 'granny leave' could help both parents & grandparents with childcare.

Thousands of women in their 50s are having to balance work and care or are being pushed out of work altogether, according to a new report from the think tank IPPR. The so-called 'sandwich generation' - who are caring for both their grandchildren and their elderly parents - are taking career breaks to become full-time carers and then finding it impossible to get another job before their own retirement age, according to the new report, which is part of a major IPPR project on the 'Condition of Britain'.

IPPR's new report argues that up to 6 months of transferable parental leave should be transferrable to a nominated working grandparent, in specific circumstances. IPPR's idea targets support to mothers who are under 18, on apprenticeships or are single parents. This would mean that grandparents would have a statutory entitlement to return to their jobs.

The report shows that there has been a sharp rise in the amount of care provided by grandparents in recent years. Half of new mothers depend on informal care provided 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 per cent) of grandmothers who provide between 10-19 hours of childcare a week earn less than £25,999, compared to the 25 per cent who earn £44,000 or more.

The report also shows the rise of the 'sandwich generation' and shows how fewer and fewer of them have retired. A third (36 per cent) of grandmothers are working full time. Three quarters of grandparents care for their grandchildren, but more than one in four (28 per cent) of those with grandchildren under 16 also have a parent who is still alive.

The report shows that older women are far more likely to provide care than men and this has a significant impact on work. By the age of 59, there is a 50/50 chance that women will have had at least one period of sustained caring responsibility. IPPR's report shows that 17 per cent of unemployed women gave up work to care, compared to just 1 per cent of men. Latest figures show there are 152,000 women over 50 who are unemployed and looking for work, almost twice as many as there were at the start of the recession in 2008. There are 68,000 women over 50 who have been unemployed and looking for work for more than a year.

The report shows that caring responsibilities combined with discrimination have created a gender pay gap of close to a fifth between older women and men.

Dalia Ben-Galim, IPPR Associate Director, said:

"Women over 50 are increasingly having to juggle responsibilities: childcare to help their grown-up children, social care for their own elderly parents and work to pay the bills and make ends meet. 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.

"Our aging society means that grandparents, especially grandmothers, are increasingly having to care for both their own parents and their grandchildren. 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."

IPPR recommends that parents be able to transfer their transferrable parental leave (a maximum of six months) to a working grandparent in specific circumstances; if the mother is a lone parent, under 18, or in vocational training like an apprenticeship. This would give grandparents a statutory entitlement to return to their jobs and allow additional options for families to make decisions on work and care. It would support women to remain in vocational training and support those lone parents who may lack additional support. There are similar transferrable policies in Germany and Slovenia. The conditions of leave should be similar as maternity and parental leave, for example in continuing to accrue pension entitlements and have the option of keeping in touch days to maintain contact with employers.

IPPR also recommends policies for income smoothing. Familienpflegezeit (family caring time) is a scheme in Germany where eligible employees can 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. Employees are paid a lower income (although the reduction in income is less than the reduction in hours). Pension contributions are still accrued throughout this period. When they return to full-time work, employees continue to receive reduced earnings to pay back the difference. In practice this means that if an employee reduces their hours from full-time to half-time for two years they will receive 75 per cent of their income over a four year period. This insurance type scheme provides flexibility the employee requires, with assurances for employers. Core to this scheme is the reduction in hours for a fixed period of time along with the smoothing over of income. Job security and flexibility are built in for employer and employee.

Notes to editors

IPPR's new report - The Sandwich Generation: Older women balancing work and care - will be published on Sunday and will be available here:

IPPR's report - Breadwinning: Working Mothers and the New Face of Family Support - is available here:

For more on IPPR's Condition of Britain project, see:

IPPR's report - Making the Case for Universal Childcare - is available from:

IPPR's report - Great expectations: Exploring the Promises of Gender Equality - is available from:

IPPR's report - Family Policy: Where Next for Parental Leave and Flexible Working? - is available from:

The latest unemployment statistics are available at:

Current provision in the UK is a year-long maternity leave (some of it paid), two weeks of paid paternity leave and a period of transferrable leave (up to six months) that the mother can transfer to the father if she is eligible for it. In 2015 the government will introduce flexible parental leave. Under this new provision, mothers will still be eligible for up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. However, excluding the first 2 weeks immediately following the birth, which must be taken by the mother, eligible parents will be able to choose how to use this leave between themselves.