From education to employment

TUC: Women 7 times more likely than men to be out of work due to caring commitments

8 in 10 job roles have a gender pay gap
  • New TUC analysis finds more than 1.46 million women are kept out of the labour market because of their caring responsibilities
  • Women in their 30s are hardest hit – one in 10 women in this age group drop out of the jobs market because of pressures of looking after their family
  • Union body calls for funded childcare and flexible working rights for all to keep women in work and to address the gender pay gap

Women are around seven times more likely than men to be out of the labour market due to caring commitments, according to a new analysis published by the TUC today (Wednesday).

The analysis of official statistics – published as the annual TUC women’s conference starts in London today – finds that more than 1.46 million women are unable to work alongside their family commitments, compared to around 230,000 men.

Women in their 30s hardest hit

The research shows that women in their 30s are the hardest hit compared to men of the same age.

One in 10 women in their 30s – more than 450,000 women – is out of the labour market because of caring responsibilities – compared to just one in 100 men in their 30s.

So, women in their 30s are 10 times more likely than men to be unable to work due to family commitments at home.

But at every age – from the very start right through to the end of their careers – women are more likely than men to have to drop out of paid work because of caring commitments.

The TUC says that this illustrates that high-quality childcare that is free at the point of use should be available for all parents from the end of maternity leave to the end of primary school. This would help women stay in their jobs and continue with their careers once they have children.

The union body also found that women shoulder most of the care for older and disabled relatives too. But the TUC warned that the staffing crisis in social care was making it harder for women to stay in work alongside their caring responsibilities. 

Women and low-paid work

The new TUC analysis also finds that women are much more likely than men to be working in low-paid jobs – and are far less likely to be in high-paid work.

Women make up two-thirds (65%) of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in the UK, like jobs in cleaning, catering and care.

But less than two in five (39%) women are working in the 10 highest-paid occupations, in industries like finance, law and IT.

Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap for all employees currently stands at 14.9%, and it widens with age. 

Analysis published last month by the TUC found that this pay gap means that the average woman in paid employment effectively works for free for nearly two months (54 days) of the year, compared to the average man in paid employment.

The union body says that at current rates of progress, it will take more than 20 years to close the gender pay gap.

Flexible work

Millions of people across the UK work flexibly. The TUC says that flexible work helps parents and carers balance their work and caring commitments and stay in their jobs.

But a survey by the union body found that half of working mums don’t get the flexibility they request at work.

The TUC says the law needs to be changed to require all jobs to be advertised with the possible flexible working options stated – and to give all workers the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.

Normalising and improving flexible working options would also encourage more men to take up these options and share caring responsibilities, says the TUC.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“Women shouldn’t have to give up or cut down paid work because they can’t find or afford the right care for their children or older or disabled relatives. 

“Too many women take a financial hit from caring for the rest of their lives – and it is a key driver of the gender pay gap. At the current rate of progress, it will be 20 years before women get pay parity with men.

“We desperately need funded high-quality childcare for all families, free at the point of use, so women can stay in work once they have kids.

“Ministers must change the law so that every single job is advertised with the possible flexible options stated, and all workers must have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.

“And ministers must fix the staffing crisis in social care so every family can find and afford the social care they need.” 

Government action needed

The TUC is calling on ministers to act now to keep women in work, make sure they are paid fairly, and to properly address the gender pay gap.

The union body wants the government to:

  • Introduce funded, high-quality childcare, available to all, free at the point of use. This would begin when paid maternity leave ends and would enable women to stay in work when they have children.
  • Create greater flexibility in all jobs. There should be a duty on employers to list the possible flexible working options for each job when it is advertised. And all workers should have a day one right to work flexibly – not just the right to ask – unless the employer can properly justify why this is not possible. Workers should have the right to appeal any rejections. And there shouldn’t be a limit on how many times a worker can ask for flexible working arrangements in a single year.
  • Strengthen gender pay gap reporting:  From 1 April 2017, the government ruled that large companies must publish information about the difference between average male and female earnings. The TUC believes the government must go further and wants employers to be made to carry out equal pay audits, and to produce action plans to close the pay gap in their workplace. The TUC also wants companies that fail to comply with the law to receive instant fines. 
  • Fix the staffing crisis in social care: There are a record 165,000 vacancies across adult social care. The TUC believes this is placing a huge strain on women with caring responsibilities for family members. The TUC says the government must work with unions and employers to tackle widespread insecure work and poverty pay in the sector which are driving high staff turnover rates.

Sector Response

Lorna Crowley, CMO at Winningtemp, commented:

“Ongoing calls for childcare reform are absolutely necessary to improve gender equality and help navigate current workforce shortages, contributing to boost the economy. Findings from PwC’s Women in Work Index show how the childcare affordability crisis and low take up by fathers of shared parental leave is negatively impacting gender inequality at work, with a growing number of mothers choosing part-time jobs or early retirements.  

The UK should look for inspiration from the Nordic countries, where the childcare model is world leading and the gender gap is less pronounced. In the Nordics, childcare arrangements are among the most generous in the world, supporting parents from the early days of pregnancy to school and beyond. This has massive benefits, and on average across the Nordic countries, almost three in four women are in paid employment, gender employment gaps are among the OECD’s smallest, and mothers are more likely to be in work than in other countries. This is thanks to affordable childcare and the right to paid parental leave and employment protection – two things that the UK could and should learn from.

The UK should look at adopting the Nordic model to childcare sooner rather than later.”

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