The final report of the Commission on Older Women has been published. This report is the culmination of over two years of evidence taking and research during which the Commission has talked with older women up and down the country, and organisations which represent and work with them, to find out about what is important and what is difficult for older women today.
In its conversations with older women, the Commission heard how older women today face an unprecedented struggle to make their lives work and how current government policy is failing them.
Older women feel they have become less valued and more vulnerable at work as they have got older. Work is insecure – zero hours contracts have become prevalent in sectors dominated by older women - and women over 50 working full-time earn only two thirds of the salary of men of the same age. Older women need good quality, fairly paid and secure work with a decent pension, but new polling by YouGov for the Commission found that while nearly half (46%) of older women think they have got better at their jobs as they have got older, less than a quarter (24%) feel that they have become more valued.
Older women need to stay in work to offset today’s unprecedented financial squeeze, but must balance this with wider responsibilities particularly to care – across the generations for grandchildren and older parents alike. Many fail to find the balance and end up giving up altogether and then struggle to return to work when they are able to. The YouGov polling found that half (48%) of older women with caring responsibilities said they have faced a challenge in the workplace in balancing their work and caring responsibilities and half (49%) of the same group felt that, if there were redundancies in their workplace, they would be more likely to be made redundant than younger colleagues.
But current policy fails to help these women back to work. The Work Programme finds work for fewer people over 50 than any other group, and finds less work for older women than for older men. And while the recent paper by Ros Altmann, Business Champion for Older Workers, includes a chapter on older women, the Government response focusing on back to work interventions makes no allowance for the different experiences of men and women.
The Commission on Older Women makes a number of recommendations to make work and caring work better for older women and increase their profile in public life. These include measures to eliminate age/gender pay inequalities, help for people trying to balance work and care and tailored support to return to work if they have to give up, together with action to improve the position and image of older women in the media where opinion is formed.
The Commission has shared its findings with the policy making process of the Labour Party. We are delighted that the Women’s Manifesto, launched last week, includes important pledges for older women. In particular we welcome the promise of a consultation on ways to help grandparents balance helping with the care of their grandchildren and staying in their jobs, including consideration of options to allow them to share in parents’ unpaid parental leave, and the pledge for action to increase pay transparency and reduce the gender pay gap.
The Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart, Secretary to the Commission on Older Women, said:
“Over the last two years I have met with many older women and they have shared many stories and experiences. But what has been compelling is how the individual stories tell of the same problems. I found out that older women today feel really vulnerable – they feel let down by government polices, undermined by the unprecedented squeeze on living standards in recent years and by the prevalence of insecure zero-hours contracts, and concerned about their futures and the adequacy of their pensions.
“Older women struggle to balance work with wider responsibilities to care for their families – for elderly parents, sick partners and other relatives and for grandchildren too, who depend predominantly on the care of older women relatives. Unable to find the balance between work and caring, many older women end up giving up work altogether and then struggle to get back to work when they are able to. This is simply not right and we must act to stop it.
“It’s time that we stop overlooking what older women have to offer. The recommendations of the Commission on Older Women, and the pledges made by Labour in our Women’s Manifesto, set up a programme of action to tackle this.”