Generation generosity: Working grandparents face growing childcare pressure.
By Sam Smethers
Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus
New Ipsos Mori polling evidence from my charity Grandparents Plus, the Family and Childcare Trust and Save the Children published today provides further evidence to support the issues raised by the TUC’s Age Immaterial report.
We found that 14% or nearly 2 million grandparents have either reduced their hours, taken days off sick or given up a job to provide childcare for their grandchildren – 1.4million grandmothers and nearly half a million granddads. It’s still older women who are more than twice as likely to drop out of work or reduce their hours to provide care for their grandchildren but granddads are clearly playing a significant role too.
40% of grandparents provide childcare to help parents get to work. That’s 2.3million grandparents. 17% or 1 million people said it was because parents couldn’t afford childcare. Significantly we also found that those who provide the most care are also the ones who are most likely to provide financial support.
This suggests that we are loading up a significant minority of grandparents with both caring and financial pressure. Indeed 12% said they felt under pressure to financially support their grandchildren and just over 400,000 grandparents have reduced the amount they save for their pension to give money to grandkids.
So what does all this mean? Grandparents have always helped out with childcare – they are the single biggest source of childcare in the country – and they probably always will. True. But those aged 55-64 provide the most childcare, followed by those aged 65-74. This generation of grandparents are expected to stay in work way beyond 65. 3 in 10 also have their parents still alive. We are loading them up with caring responsibilities and telling them to work longer too.
So we want to see a strategic investment in formal childcare, to take the pressure off working grandparents as we cannot assume they will continue to fill the childcare gap. But we also know that parents usually combine formal and informal childcare, so we want to see a period of grandparental leave to give them an entitlement in their own right to some of the same workplace rights as parents.
Contrary to the prevailing debate about the ‘burden’ of the ageing population, resources of time, care and money are passed down the generations from grandparents to grandchildren far more than they are in reverse. In fact we found that grandparents are 3 times more likely to say it is their responsibility to financially support their grandchildren than the other way around. Grandparents who spend time caring for their grandchildren are also more sympathetic to public spending on benefits and services for children and young people. Caring for grandchildren may make you more sympathetic to the interests of future generations?
But the truth is not everyone has a gran and granddad to rely on. If we don’t invest in the childcare infrastructure we will see a growing inequality between those who have grandparents to fall back on and those who do not. This will mean parents, particularly mothers working below their potential, their families worse off as a result and the economy missing out on their skills and productivity.