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Scotland, older women and work

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older women and work, Scotland, reportNew report has several recommendations for the government and employers.

The publication of a report ‘Older Women and Work – Looking to the Future’ from the Scottish Commission on Older Women, brings to the fore the experiences of older women seeking to remain in, or re-enter, the labour market.

With rising numbers of women over the age of 50 in the labour market in Scotland, the government, employers and trade unions all  have roles to play in ensuring good quality employment with sufficient flexibility and training opportunities, and in recognising changing family and caring responsibilities.

And analysis of data by Scottish Labour at the time showed that unemployment among older women had risen while it has been falling in the general population.

Over 13,000 women between the ages of 50 and 64 in Scotland were unemployed – a rise of 30 per cent since 2010. An increase that happened while, over the same period, unemployment of men between 50 and 64 had decreased by 23 per cent and unemployment among the general population in Scotland had decreased by 16 per cent.

The report draws on roundtables and conferences held over the last two years, as well as academic research and analysis.

While some older women’s experiences have been positive, the Commission heard from older women speaking of a lack of opportunities, inflexible responses to additional caring responsibilities, poor health, and financial pressures.

The Commission’s co-chair, Morag Alexander, said: “Older women spoke to us about their paid work and unpaid caring, and generously shared sometimes painful experiences of harassment and discrimination.”

The Scottish Commission on Older Women was established in February 2015.

The Commission’s members were: Morag Alexander OBE, co-chair; Agnes Tolmie, co-chair, UNITE the Union, Scottish Women’s Convention; Ann Henderson STUC Assistant Secretary; Brid Cullen, voluntary sector background; Wendy Loretto, Professor Organisational Behaviour, Edinburgh University Business School; Rohini Sharma Joshi, Trust Housing Association, adviser to Government on diversity, Older People’s Assembly and other bodies; Mary Alexander, member Scottish Government Fair Work Convention, UNITE the union; and Sheila Kettles, from the STUC’s Women’s Committee.

The report has several recommendations for the government:

‘1. We welcome the UK Government’s recent commitment to improving transparency around equal pay by pressing larger employers to disclose details of their gender pay gap.

Nevertheless, our findings show that an aggregation of such figures can obscure details of difference in certain age groups; and across minority groups including ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

As such we recommend that analysis of pay gaps is stratified by age and appropriate data collected on minority groups.

2. Women’s entitlements to state and occupational pensions have historically been low.

More recently, there is a growing body of evidence that women are being disproportionately (negatively) impacted by welfare reforms.

The Scottish Commission on Older Women calls for stringent, enforceable and visible monitoring of equality impact of policy decisions and public spend and for this to be implemented by the UK government in relation to welfare policy.

[The] Government should also investigate the likelihood of a potentially disproportionately detrimental effect on ethnic minority older women and on those with disabilities of welfare reforms and pension reforms.

The Scottish Government should consider the levers that it currently holds, and those that may come through the devolution of further powers, that could be used to mitigate the impact of reforms on women in Scotland.

3. Both the UK and Scottish governments should proactively address the problem of a paucity of current data on employment issues facing older disabled women and older women from ethnic minorities by commissioning new research into this area, including the collation of statistics but also case studies.

It should identify particular barriers facing women from these groups and practical recommendations for how these can be overcome.

Government at all levels should lead by example in recognising the value of older women in the workplace and adopting working policies and practices that meet their needs across the public sector.

This will include identifying and eliminating implicit and explicit age discrimination; developing appropriate health and well-being policies; the provision of development and career progression opportunities; design and implementation of models of flexible working; and statutory entitlements to carers leave.

Specific actions may include acting as a central hub for the sharing of good practice; national guidance on policy design; support for networks of appropriate role models or champions; and the development of mentoring schemes which provide opportunities for older women to share their expertise.

4. Government at all levels must ensure that the terms and conditions of contracts for public sector workers are fair; and must use the levers it holds, particularly procurement, to encourage equitable conditions across the private and third sectors.

5. Government-led initiatives, such as the Scottish Government’s Fair Work and Scottish Business Pledge programmes, must be properly monitored to allow evaluation of their impact.

6. Public agencies that provide employment support, particularly the Department of Work and Pensions through its Work Programmes and Job Centre Plus, should provide tailored support to older women seeking to return to the workplace.

These agencies, together with business support agencies such as Business Gateway, should also recognise the growing numbers of older women turning to self-employment and provide more high-quality information and support accordingly.

7. Unpaid caring is now a significant activity for older women in Scotland, and is likely to become increasingly so as public funding for health and social care comes under further pressure.

The psychological and physical demands on the increasing number of women aged over 50 who are now providing significant levels of unpaid care will inevitably impact on their well-being and their ability to remain in the workplace.

As well as supporting the development of flexible working practices in the workplace, the Scottish government must lead the effective integration of care systems and social support networks which engage and support unpaid carers and recognise and value their contribution.’

It also has recommendations for employers:

‘1. As in the public sector (Recommendation 4), employers across the private and third sectors should undertake a comprehensive review of policies, procedures and workplace ‘norms’, with appropriate expert advice, to address age discrimination and the ways in which age, gender and other protected characteristics (such as race or disability) may interact to create or reinforce barriers to employment among particular groups of workers.

Specifically, we recommend that these reviews and resulting policies recognise the value of older women and highlight their contribution to the workplace, for example through mentoring schemes.

Employers must ensure that recruitment processes are non-discriminatory; that high-quality, appropriate training opportunities are available to all; and provide support for older women to identify and take advantage of opportunities for career progression, where they wish to do so.

Equality Impact Assessments should be made of all voluntary severance schemes or severance packages.

2. Equally, employers should work with older women and work place representatives to design and implement modern policies for flexible working that recognise the broad spectrum of reasons why older women may wish to work flexibly.

It is crucial that any policies are communicated effectively in order to increase awareness and promote uptake.

Unions also have a key role in negotiating such policies and in implementation of practice.’

Remarking on the report, Professor Wendy Loretto said: “For too long the UK policy debate has ignored the complex challenges facing older women.

“Faced with a rising state pension age and welfare reforms, most Scottish women now face no choice but to work well into later life to make ends meet.

“Meanwhile they often have the added responsibility of providing unpaid care to elderly relatives, or for their grandchildren whose own parents are unable not to work.

“There is no quick fix to these challenges, but we all have a vested interest in addressing them.

“By starting a dialogue with this report we hope the UK and Scotland’s policy makers can work together with the country’s employers and trade unions to develop a new framework to reduce pressure on women working in later life, and unlock their economic potential for the benefit of Scotland as a whole.”

Anne Dean said: “The STUC has heard many concerns in recent years, and this report provides a welcome opportunity to discuss positive change.

“Older women have much to contribute in our society, and it’s time that we valued that contribution in the way it deserves.”

To read the report, click here.

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