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Women over 50 lose out in the workplace

28 February 2014

They were the generation who fought for women's rights and the first to be covered by equal pay and sex equality legislation, but once they reached their fifties these women are still losers in the workplace.

A TUC report, Age Immaterial, paints a depressing picture for many women aged over 50. A record number of older women have become trapped in low-paid jobs as they struggle to balance caring responsibilities with work.

The report found:

  • Older women suffer the biggest pay penalty. The gender pay gap for women over 50 working full-time is twice as high as it is for younger women. Nearly half of women over 50 are in part-time work, where the average annual wage is under £10,000 a year.
  • Women over 50 have extensive and multiple caring responsibilities. Almost half (49 per cent) care for at least one of their own parents (49 per cent) while two in five (39 per cent) are caring for their own children. One in five (21 per cent) look after their grandchildren, while many women also care for another elderly relative (13 per cent) or a disabled husband, wife or partner (9 per cent).
  • Older women feel more at risk from public sector cuts. With the majority of women aged 50-64 employed in public administration, education and health, the threat of redundancy is a major concern, especially as Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has forecast that the public sector is set to lose 1.1m jobs by 2018-19.

The TUC report calls on employers to have a more enlightened attitude to women's caring responsibilities. It calls for the introduction of several new rights, including:

  • five to ten days of paid carers’ leave per year;
  • an unpaid leave entitlement, similar to parental leave, specifically for grandparents;
  • a period of statutory adjustment leave for sudden changes to caring responsibilities and crisis situations.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Harriet Harman, the Labour Party's deputy leader, said:

"There is a great deal of disrespect for older women in the workplace. They find that their experience is not recognised or rewarded and they find themselves being excluded from training and promotion and eventually pushed towards the exit. Employers must be more flexible and recognise that women, in particular, bear the brunt of caring for elderly relatives and have to juggle this with work. Line managers should also be trained to learn about the effect of the menopause on women."

Lena Calvert, NUJ equality officer, said: “The NUJ welcomes this latest report from the TUC on the difficulties faced by older women in the workplace. Women over 50 are particularly affected by redundancies and marginalisation. And, as we have witnessed in the broadcasting industry, and campaigned on, older women have been found to be too old for the screen when older men presenters seem to be able to go on forever.   Despite being part of a generation that has been “protected” by equal pay and sex discrimination legislation for most of their working lives, older women still suffer from the largest pay gap.  This combined with the tendency of employers to use redundancy procedures to ease older women out of the workplace leads to pension poverty – the prize for a lifetime of working.”

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary said: “We need a radical rethink of our workplace culture, which is ill-equipped to cope with the complex work and caring roles that many older women face. New rights to carers leave and adjustment leave to help them cope with sudden emergencies would make a huge difference to women’s working lives, and would also enable employers to keep hold of experienced and often highly qualified staff.”

Age Immaterial campaign report

The TUC is organising Fair Pay Fortnight from Monday 24 March to Sunday 6 April. It will be a series of events across England and Wales to raise awareness about falling living standards.

Tags: , older workers, equality, sex discrimination, tuc, women