Pressure grows to give women over the age of 50 'granny leave'

Support is needed for 'sandwich generation' caring for grandchildren and parents

Thousands of women over the age of 50 are being forced to give up work because of the pressures of looking after their elderly parents and grandchildren, a study reveals today.

The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank calls for women caught in the "sandwich generation" to be allowed to benefit from "granny leave", which could be transferred from their children, and give them time off work to spend on caring duties.

Underlying the extent of the sandwich generation are figures from the IPPR showing that 36 per cent of grandmothers are working full time, while three-quarters of grandparents have at some point provided childcare for their grandchildren. Some 28 per cent of those with grandchildren also have a parent who is still alive.

The publication of the study comes after Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, called for men and women to be given the right for flexible working if they look after elderly parents. The growing ageing population, which has in turn led to a rise in dementia, has left people in their early fifties facing the challenge of caring for parents.

Women in particular, the IPPR report says, are hit by a "triple whammy" of work, childcare and social care once they reach 50. Women, who are more likely to undertake caring duties than men, are taking career breaks to become full-time carers and then find it impossible to get another job before reaching their own retirement age, the IPPR report says.

By the age of 59, there is a 50 per cent chance that women will have had at least one period of sustained caring responsibility, beyond looking after their own children. Some 17 per cent of unemployed women gave up work to care, compared with 1 per cent of unemployed men.

Granny leave could be up to six months, taken from transferable parental leave, which the Government is introducing in 2015. It would give grandparents the statutory right to return to their jobs after taking time off. The IPPR said this would be targeted at the over-50s whose children were teenage parents, on apprenticeships or are single parents.

The IPPR report, part of a wider project by the think-tank on the "Condition of Britain", reveals that half of new mothers receive their parents' help to look after their babies. Grandmothers who care for their grandchildren are more likely to be younger, in work and in low-income households. Two-thirds of grandmothers who provide between 10 and 19 hours of childcare a week earn less than £25,999, while only 25 per cent earn £44,000 or more.

There are currently 152,000 women over 50 who are unemployed and looking for work, a figure which has nearly doubled since 2008.

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 fifties to stay in work. Our ageing 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 fifties to help their daughters get back to work after having children. But women over 50 find it very difficult to get back into work themselves and are too often forced into early retirement.”

Germany and Slovenia have similar policies which allow leave to be transferred not only between parents but intergenerationally. The IPPR is calling for Britain to introduce a version of Germany's Familienpflegezeit, or family caring time, where employees can reduce their working hours for up to two years if they need to care for a dependant, and spread out the pay cut over four years.

Lara Crisp, Gransnet co-editor, said: "Grans and grandads are crucial to the smooth running of busy families, and there are plenty of threads on Gransnet's forums about being caught between the twin responsibilities of caring for both grandchildren and elderly parents. Being able to do so without having to give up or change their jobs would be of huge benefit and make their lives much less complicated."

Helena Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: "The economic importance of enabling mothers to work has driven investment in childcare and new flexibility in workplaces in the past few decades. We now need to see the same shift occur for women over 50 – so that businesses and care services work together to support families to balance this new mix of work and caring."

Case study: 'It's a military exercise, just getting everything organised'

Jayne Thomas, 56, from Bridgend, Wales, not only takes her two grandchildren, Ieuan, six, and Isobel, four, to school each day to help her daughter, but she also has to care for her 82-year-old mother, who has severe dementia. And she is a customer and community support manager for Bridgend County Borough Council. "It's a military exercise," she says. "It's just getting everything organised, looking after the house."

Her mother, Patricia Jenkins, who lives with her, needs everything to be done for her. Carers from the local authority visit for 15 minutes three times a day, although the cover does not extend to weekends. "It's our choice not to do it at the weekend, because then I haven't got people here all the time."

On the report, Ms Thomas said: "I think it's fantastic because there are many grandparents that don't work but look after their grandchildren free of charge. We take ours to school, not only because we want to, but it saves my daughter £200 a month."

"She's been very lucky because she gets all the school holidays off and she doesn't have to pay for care there. But obviously when the children were younger, before they started school, it was really expensive and we just tried to help out."

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