Women Carers and Later Retirement: Wider impact on families and support
The changes to women’s pension age were necessary to equalise the payment of pensions to men and women, however the introduction of a higher pension age for women has had a major impact on families, with particular reference to those who have caring responsibilities.
The process of changing the pension age and the perhaps ill-judged speed through which it was introduced, have been very successfully highlighted and challenged by the women most affected. Their resultant campaign being led by the WASPI women, https://www.waspi.co.uk/ “The WASPI Campaign is fighting for justice for all women born in the 1950s affected by the changes to the State Pension Age (SPA). WASPI is not against equalisation, but we do not accept the unfair way the changes to our SPA were implemented with inadequate or no notice.”
There is however another, perhaps unintended, consequence of these changes which is less frequently discussed and which continues to affect many women in their early 60s. For many years the responsibility of caring for ageing parents has predominantly fallen to women within the family. Although this may have changed slightly in recent years, studies show that it remains the case in most households. Having also often been the main carer for children, many women returned to the workplace, only to find that at retirement they then took on more and more responsibility for their parents, parents-in-law, and childminding roles for grandchildren. When the retirement age for women was 60 years old, they had the time and financial support (though often stretched if relying solely on a small state pension) to support their parents who may be living with health issues such as dementia.
The change in the state pension age has not reduced any of these caring responsibilities, and statistics show that it continues largely to fall on the women of the family to take on this role. This means that women in their early 60s are now often having to choose between juggling work and a caring role or giving up work altogether and trying to survive on carer’s allowance (£67.25 a week – March 2021).
The cost of paid home care averages at about £15 per hour; the actual cost that a person pays for their homecare depends on a number of factors, including income and savings. Many families may feel that informal family carers are better off leaving work to care for their relatives themselves.
Facts from www.carersuk.org
- 5 million people in the UK are juggling caring responsibilities with work – that’s 1 in 7 of the workforce.
- The significant demands of caring mean that 600 people give up work every day to care for an older or disabled relative.
- One in five people aged 50-64 in the UK are carers to an older family member.
Additionally, at least 80% of grandmothers in England with a grandchild under 16 provide childcare – nearly 2 million of whom deplete their state pension by giving up work, reducing their hours or taking time off to help their adult children cope.
A study undertaken by Carrino, (2020) entitled: ‘Later retirement, job strain, and health: Evidence from the new State Pension age in the United Kingdom’ was based on more than 7,000 women aged 55 to 65 years. Findings from this study showed that women in the UK who work more hours due to the increase in their state pension age substantially reduce informal caregiving to older parents, who receive less overall care as a consequence.
Many continued working into their sixties, which researchers said had a major impact on the £130billion-plus yearly value of care for the elderly given free largely by middle-aged daughters.
The chance that a woman would give more than 20 hours a week of care to her older relatives dropped by half if she worked after the age of 60, the study found, and a woman working 30 hours a week would reduce the care given to her parents by 330 hours a year.
The paper, presented to a conference of the Royal Economic Society, was reported in the British press citing that “the cost to taxpayers of replacing the hours of care lost for each working middle-aged woman is £5,600 a year, a figure calculated from a standard pay rate for carers of £17 an hour.”
However, this interpretation of the findings has been challenged as it does not account for the income for the nation generated by women working in their sixties who would have been paying much less in income tax had they retired.
Researchers said reforms could include more free care for old people whose family carers have jobs, or subsidies for employers to allow flexible hours for older workers who have caring responsibilities.
Some thoughts about what we could have done differently and what should happen in the future
There is a strong argument that the retirement age for women should have been introduced more gradually so that families could prepare and put adequate support in place.
Alternatively, should we have tried to lower the retirement age for men and equalise the state pension age for everyone – for example at 63 or 64 years old? There would undoubtedly be economic repercussions in using this strategy, but whether this option fully explored remains unknown.
If carers allowance was increased to reflect the current state pension level, this would give people a more realistic choice when deciding whether they could afford to reduce or stop work to care for family members.
The review and introduction of a new national social care strategy has been long awaited and is proposed in current government plans. If there was a cap on the cost of paid carers, this may well allow families to bring in more professional care and enable informal carers the choice of working full or part time to suit.
The introduction of a real living wage and better working conditions for paid carers could address the current shortage of staff in care services. Even before the pandemic The Health Foundation report in 27 November 2019: ‘Health and social care workforce, Priorities for the new government’ stated that staff shortages in social care were reported to be at around 122,000 with a quarter of staff on a zero-hours contract.
The introduction of more part time/ flexible working patterns would help those with caring responsibilities. Although employees now have a right to ask for flexible working, companies could do more to promote the positive benefits to their staff and actively support carers in the workplace. The government could also offer business grants or incentives to offset the cost of this support.
The dilemma of juggling caring responsibilities for parents and parents-in-law with an ongoing career is one that many of us will face; it is time for society to take decisive action to reduce the anxiety and stress caused to many people at their retirement. More research around this sensitive but crucial area of support and it wider impact is urgently needed.
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Hilary Stefanelli (Project Development Manager)