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Older women need flexible working

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reports on issues regarding older women with caring responsibilities and the need for more flexible workingMore older women are long-term unemployed and fewer working flexible hours.

Older women are falling further behind in the jobs market, two leading UK charities claim.

Analysis by Age UK and Carers UK found that while the total number of people working has grown steadily over the last two years, the significant fall in the number of older women in jobs indicates that many want to work but can’t find suitable employment.

Age UK looked at the Labour Force Survey and found that long-term unemployment among women aged 50-64 rose from 34.5 per cent in 2010 to 40.7 per cent in 2012 – an increase of nearly a fifth.

And in 2012, 36.8 per cent of women worked flexibly, down from 38.3 per cent in 2010.

The charities say that caring commitments – for ageing parents, children and grandchildren – prevent many older women from working traditional hours.

They say that as a result women find themselves locked out of the jobs market and the result is the fall in the numbers working flexibly.

Age UK and Carers UK believe improving opportunities to work flexibly could help many of these unemployed women find work.

A recent TUC report  found that almost half of women over 50 are in part-time work with average wages of less than £10,000.

The report argued that many of these women could only take part-time jobs because of their caring responsibilities which thus trapped them in low wage jobs.

The Labour Party set up a Commission on Older Women as part of its Policy Review.  It recently published its interim report calling for government-funded programmes targeted at helping older women back to work, for companies to conduct gender pay audits and for a public debate about whether parental leave could be shared with grandparents.

The government has committed itself to extending the right to request flexible working to all employees in June 2014.

The charities welcome this as an important first step, but believe that we should go further to encourage employers to promote and encourage flexibility in the workplace.

Flexible working can include a range of options, including working from home, doing flexitime or compressing hours, all of which can allow people to balance personal responsibilities with work.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK said, “We know that many older women especially are finding it impossible to hold down a full time job at the same time as fulfilling their caring responsibilities.

“In the end, many have to stop employment altogether or take a poorly paid part-time job, where their skills are often wasted and their income plummets.

“That’s why we need ‘Flexible by Default’, so that everyone can work flexibly unless their employer can justify otherwise to harness the wasted potential of many older women – and indeed older men.”

Heléna Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “1 in 4 women in their 50s and 60s have caring responsibilities, many struggling to combine paid work with supporting ageing parents or an ill partner.

“Unless carers can access flexibility at work and reliable care services at home they are at risk of being forced to give up work entirely, with serious costs not just to their family finances but also to their employer and the economy.”

Currently, only parents with children under the age of 16 and those with formal caring responsibilities can request flexible working.

  1. This is a welcome initiative. Older women and their wealth of experience, wisdom and skills have been overlooked for far too long. The country would benefit hugely if it capitalised on these. Let’s hope the government takes notice of the recommendations in this interim report. But I’m not holding my breath.

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