Another good report from the ippr, this time on older women and their caring responsibilities – the Sandwich Generation.
The report is full of useful information, some of it quite eye-popping even to someone like me who thought they had look at demographic trends. A notable example is that in less than 5 years the number of elderly people needing care will exceed the numbers of working-age people in families. The proportion of grandparents with some kind of caring role is 70% – many of them still working, but some who have given up work to care.
Not surprisingly, it is mainly less-qualified older women in lower-paid occupations who give up work in order to care for others (of whatever age). But a central PP-relevant message that I took from the report is this: as more of the women in this age-group have qualifications and skills, their attitudes may change, and the cost of losing them from the workforce will rise. If we could raise the employment levels of older people to Scandinavian levels the estimates are that it would benefit the economy by around £20 billion, in higher tax take and lower welfare spending. The assumptions behind these kinds of estimates are pretty heroic, but it’s already a very large sum anyway. As the current generations of well-educated women age, it will get even larger.
The solution, or part of it, has to be better quality part-time employment, and the IPPR report has sensible things to say on this. ‘Flexibility’ per se is not the answer. There needs to be a proper balance between the needs of employers and those of potential staff. Getting this balance right will have to be done at local level, which is where organisations such as the Timewise Foundation come in. Older part-time women are currently probably the most marginal of all groups in the labour force. It makes sense to make serious efforts to allow them to do the caring they so often do, and enjoy doing, without sacrificing all their employment prospects.