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Rigid workplace culture prevents women over 50 from furthering their careers

A rigid workplace culture is making it difficult for older women to balance their careers with caring responsibilities, leading to decades of low pay at the end of their working lives and poverty in retirement, a TUC report warns yesterday (Thursday).

The final report of the TUC’s investigation into issues facing women over 50 at work has found that while a record number of older women are in work, many are trapped in low-paid jobs and are struggling to balance caring responsibilities with work.

The report finds:

  • Older women suffer the biggest pay penalty. The gender pay gap for women over 50 working full-time is twice as high as it is for younger women. Nearly half of women over 50 are in part-time work, where the average annual wage is under £10,000 a year.
  • Women over 50 have extensive and multiple caring responsibilities. Almost half (49 per cent) care for at least one of their own parents (49 per cent) while two in five (39 per cent) are caring for their own children. One in five (21 per cent) look after their grandchildren, while many women also care for another elderly relative (13 per cent) or a disabled husband, wife or partner (9 per cent).
  • Older women feel more at risk from public sector cuts. With the majority of women aged 50-64 employed in public administration, education and health, the threat of redundancy is a major concern, especially as Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast that the public sector is set to lose 1.1m jobs by 2018-19.

The complex and often multiple caring responsibilities faced by women over 50 – and a failure by many employers to help them balance work with their other responsibilities – make it particularly difficult for them to continue their careers whilst caring for loved ones, says the TUC.

The TUC report calls on employers to have a more enlightened attitude to these caring responsibilities, which needs to be underpinned by new employment rights. The report calls for the introduction of several new rights, including:

  • five to ten days of paid carers’ leave per year
  • an unpaid leave entitlement, similar to parental leave, specifically for grandparents, and
  • a period of statutory adjustment leave for sudden changes to caring responsibilities and crisis situations.

The TUC also wants employers to advertise all jobs on a flexible basis so the ability to work flexibly isn’t limited to those who want to stay in their current job. The public sector should take the lead in embracing this modern recruitment practice, says the TUC.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Women in their 50s are the first generation of women to have been protected by equal pay and sex discrimination laws throughout their careers. They were also the first women to have access to paid maternity leave, though many struggled on their return to work as few employers offered flexible working.

“Despite these huge strides, women over 50 are paid a fifth less per hour than men, and many are trapped in low-paid work, with an ever-longer wait for their retirement. This generation of women has been let down.

“We need a radical rethink of our workplace culture, which is ill-equipped to cope with the complex work and caring roles that many older women face. New rights to carers leave and adjustment leave to help them cope with sudden emergencies would make a huge difference to women’s working lives, and would also enable employers to keep hold of experienced and often highly qualified staff.”


- The final report of the Age Immaterial campaign is available at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Age_Immaterial_Women_Over_50_Report_2014_LR.pdf

- The OBR forecast for public sector employment was analysed recently by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in their public sector workforce briefing. It is available at www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn145.pdf.

- The TUC is organising Fair Pay Fortnight from Monday 24 March to Sunday 6 April. It will be a series of events across England and Wales to raise awareness about falling living standards. www.fairpayfortnight.org

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Follow the TUC on Twitter: @tucnews


Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen   T: 020 7467 1248    M: 07778 158175    E:
Rob Holdsworth    T: 020 7467 1372    M: 07717 531150     E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson   T: 020 7467 1337    M: 07900 910624     E: egibson@tuc.org.uk

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