With two in five women over the age of 50 also the mothers of school-age children, the TUC is today (Wednesday 30th October 2013) urging employers to be more sympathetic to requests for flexible working and annual leave from older members of staff – especially during the school holidays.
The TUC survey of older workers – conducted as part of its Age Immaterial campaign which looks at the often ignored needs of the over 50s at work – found that almost three in five (59.4 per cent) have to combine caring responsibilities with their jobs.
While almost half of those with caring responsibilities (48.6 per cent) are looking after elderly parents, almost two in five (38.6 per cent) have children of school age. A fifth of the respondents (20 per cent) are looking after their grandchildren and working.
With much of the government's and employers' focus on the childcare needs of parents with pre-school children, the TUC says that employers need to understand that parents' caring responsibilities don't end the minute their child starts school.
Rather than assume that it is only be staff in their twenties and thirties who need to work flexibly around their childcare needs, employers must also understand that many of their older employees are also juggling work and family commitments. This can get increasingly complicated during the school holidays – especially for single parents – says the TUC.
In addition, there is little support for the parents of teenage children, who often struggle to find appropriate after-school and school holiday care, says the TUC. For many parents, including those who live in rural areas with limited public transport, who work long hours, do unpredictable shifts, or who have disabled children, this can be especially problematic.
Recent research from the Daycare Trust suggests that the average cost of an after-school club is now £49.67 per week across Britain. This would mean a parent with two children in an after-school club for 15 hours per week having an annual bill of nearly £4,000 during term time. Given the rise in living costs and the ongoing squeeze on wages, the cost of after-school care is likely to prevent many parents from working full-time, says the TUC.
The TUC is calling on employers to recognise the needs of older parents – and parents with older children – when considering requests for flexible working or annual leave during the school holidays. It would also like to see a greater commitment from the government to address the patchy provision and spiralling costs of after-school and school holiday care.
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "While most schoolchildren look forward to the holidays and a break from school, the three half-term and the annual Christmas, Easter and summer holidays can be a worrying time for working parents.
"With wages undergoing the sharpest squeeze in a hundred years, the cost of holiday clubs – particularly for families with more than one child – can be beyond the means of many working parents. And while parents might be happy to leave their 14 or 15 year olds home alone for the odd day during this half-term, they will be much more reluctant to do so for their younger children.
"It's not just younger employees who have childcare responsibilities, and good employers should be aware of the stresses facing working mums and dads of all ages as they fret about what to do with their older children during the holidays, and should be sympathetic to their requests for leave."
Working Families Chief Executive Sarah Jackson said: "Childcare and flexible working hours are not just concerns for new mothers, and certainly not just for young women. We welcome the TUC's findings that almost 40 per cent of older workers have dependent children of school age.
"Good employers will recognise the business benefits of retaining the experience and expertise of older men and women and will offer flexibility to allow parents to fill the childcare gaps. But we'd also like to see much more available, affordable childcare in school holidays, including for children with disabilities."