By Sue Cohen
The Women’s Budget Group
The Women’s Budget Group have asked me to write this blog as I’m on their committee and they’ve just heard I have a new grandson. I’m excited as I’m off to visit my daughter and baby grandson in London. Coincidentally they live in the same road as Grandparents Plus and coincidentally as I am writing this on the train my brother, a documentary-maker phones wanting a conversation about grandparents. He’s met quite a few in the course of his latest film and he’s bowled over. Family values are as strong as ever he tells me.
I know this having been CEO for the Single Parent Action Network for over 20 years www.spanuk.org.uk – lucky to meet grandparents from all backgrounds and cultures, who are there for their families through the good and the tough times. And these are tough times of course, with government policies not matching political rhetoric on family values. Austerity and welfare reform are creating a domino effect, impacting badly on low income family members including grandparents.
Single parent families are hardest hit by austerity measures, losing on average a twelfth of their income. To keep the bailiffs at bay, many grandparents end up supplementing the family income, as well as feeding their grandchildren when money runs out at the end of the week.
Grandparents are also being called on to provide the childcare for many of the 400,000 single parents now required to find work or face sanctions. Given most available jobs extend outside of school hours, grandparents provide the wrap-around childcare needed to cover shift work including night shifts. When grandparents should be enjoying a life with more choices they can end up with less choice than when their children were young – leading more pressurised lives with their health also under pressure, looking after grandchildren, whilst often balancing their own jobs.
It’s more manageable if grandparents live near their grandchildren. But the new bedroom tax also has an unequal effect on single parents and will make this more difficult. Many will have to pay more for spare rooms and some families face forced displacement having to move far away from grandparents in order to find cheap accommodation. Everyone in the family loses out.
In the UK the shrinking state is impacting disproportionately on women including grandmothers, who because they love their families so, will try and fill the economic, social/childcare gaps. The increasingly received wisdom is that it has to be this way, but some other EU countries have not gone down this path. Sweden has much greater investment in the social infrastructure and is performing much better than the UK economically, with all families including single parent families benefiting in the process. Germany has policies that recompense grandparents for looking after their sick grandchildren. We need to pressurise our MPs and tell them that that in some cases the EU can be a guiding light with regard to family values and that words need to be matched by policies in this country.