More women doing unpaid care as social care system being ‘pushed to breaking point’, Labour warns

Exclusive: Analysis by Labour shows there are now three million women doing unpaid informal care

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
,Matt Mathers
Thursday 13 April 2023 17:35 BST
Unpaid carers taking leave from their jobs should be a normal part of working life, like taking a sick day or maternity leave after a baby, ministers have heard
Unpaid carers taking leave from their jobs should be a normal part of working life, like taking a sick day or maternity leave after a baby, ministers have heard (Getty/iStock)

Increasing numbers of women are being forced to do unpaid care for loved ones as the social care system is “pushed to breaking point”, the Labour Party has warned.

A new study, shared exclusively with The Independent, shows there are now 3 million women doing unpaid informal care, such as cooking, shopping, as well as other household chores for family members. Researchers said that was up by 500,000 in the past year.

The analysis found there are almost half a million women who are classed as “sandwich carers” in the UK, meaning they are caring for both children and adult relatives. That’s compared to just over 300,000 men who are delivering the same care.

Anneliese Dodds, shadow women and equalities secretary, told The Independent: “Thirteen years of Conservative failure and broken promises have left the UK with the perfect storm of an ageing society, a social care system pushed to breaking point and a cost of living crisis.

"All too often this has left women, particularly those in their forties, fifties and sixties shouldering this burden alone.”

Ms Dodds, MP for Oxford East, argued “these women are facing unique pressures, caring for their children and their parents, juggling these responsibilities with work, all while trying to make ends meet”. Labour has a “plan” to keep more women of this age group in the workplace, she added.

A raft of policies to support this goal has recently been unveiled by Labour, including the party promising to eradicate the gender pay gap, as well as overhauling the culture around family-friendly work, introducing more flexible working, addressing workplace harassment, and better supporting unpaid carers.

Labour warned women could be pushed out of the workplace to provide care for their parents and other elderly family members.

One in five women aged between 55 and 59 are delivering some type of informal care, according to census data.

While 185,000 more women in their fifties and sixties are currently not economically active, in comparison to the number doing so in April 2020.

Female carers are substantially more likely to do part-time work, or not be in any employment at all than their male counterparts - with only a quarter in full-time employment.

At the end of last year, the government announced that employees would be given the right to ask for flexible working as soon as they start a job under new legislation. Ministers said they will “make flexible working the default”.

The government also said 1.5 million low-paid workers, such as students, carers and some freelance workers, would reap the advantages of a new law which enables them to work a second job by curbing exclusivity clause rules.

Last October, the government announced new laws that will give millions of people doing unpaid care work one week of unpaid leave each year. The Carer’s Leave Bill was introduced by Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Democrat MP for North East Fife, and gained the support of the government.

NHS figures show more than 80 per cent of adult social services jobs in 2019 were carried out by female workers, while government figures show women make up the majority of informal carers in the UK.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are supporting social care with up to £7.5 billion over the next two years and last week set out the Next steps to Put People at the Heart of Care, our plan to reform social care, backed by £700 million over the next two years.

“This includes up to £25 million for unpaid carers and £327 million of Better Care Fund funding in 2023-24, to provide short breaks and respite services for carers, as well as additional advice and support.”

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