What are the costs of not sharing care as demand outstrips supply more and more?

Sharing care

Photo: Christopher Allison Photography. Creative Commons.

We are currently in a hole with extraordinarily low levels of sharing of work leave entitlements between women and men compared to other countries – we hover around 2-4% uptake of parental leave by fathers compared with 32% in Germany, 69% in Portugal and 88% in Sweden.

In every country where improved leave entitlement policies have been put in place, behaviour has changed very substantially and rapidly. It is not an incremental thing: it does not feel like pushing a ball up a hill. Rather, it would seem families need to share and they moment they can, they do.

This leads to the idea that the lack of sharing of care in UK is actually a product of social engineering: a specific set of constraints that are held in place and block sharing between women and men. These constraints have proved to be remarkably difficult to dismantle, because of the range of interests supporting the status quo. The dual ideas that everyone should focus on work and that women should focus on caring for children are both passionately held and well represented politically.

It is time to change the goalposts of the debate in UK

We are so far away in UK from what other European countries have achieved – and not just Scandinavia – that we need to change the goalposts of the debate.We need a new sense of urgency, a new sense of how far away we are from where we need to be and a new vision of what life could be like.

We propose to commission a report that calculates the cost of the lack of sharing to the UK economy. How much does the lack of sharing of care between women and men cost the economy? What is the cost of the barriers we choose to keep in place?

Then the report will map out a vision for how care can be organised in our society, so that it is sufficient in quantity, rewarding in quality and equitable in distribution. This exercise will encompass family life, the workplace, and the sphere of formal services and public policy. It will explore new models, for example a world in which every paid worker, irrespective of gender, position or seniority, is expected to have caring roles at various points in their working life, with employment organised on that assumption.

Once the report is prepared we will carefully organise a launch with strong headlines and start the work of shifting the goalposts of the debate.

We are running out of care: we need to think differently

This discussion is of particular importance because demographic trends – an ageing population and people becoming parents at an older age (having to care for children and the elderly at the same time) – are driving up the gap between supply and demand for care.

Caring for others is vitally important, for those who give and receive care, for our communities and for society as a whole, in short for all of us. Life could not go on, would not be worthwhile, without it.

Care is undervalued and falls mainly to unpaid or low paid women from this country or abroad, whether informally in the family or formally in services for children and adults. But women today are better educated and have higher employment rates and expectations than ever before; a continuing supply of unpaid or low paid care, whether informal or formal, can no longer be presumed.

The primary focus of successive governments has been on GDP and getting as many people as possible into work. But that preoccupation overlooks the looming shortfall of care and the unfairness and increasing dysfunctionality of the present model. It fails to address the increasingly urgent questions: who will do the caring? To attempt to continue with business as usual, without developing a new model of care, puts at risk both caring and the economy, families and care services, those who are cared for and those who do the caring.

A business as usual approach will also fail to address the enormous gender inequalities that arise from low paid and low valued care falling mostly to women.

We argue that care is becoming the new currency. Increasingly we will measure our wealth not only in monetary terms but also in terms of whether or not we have the care that we and our families need. How we provide it and fund it will become a preoccupation for us all.

The picture in figures

We have an ageing population and a shortage of both unpaid and paid carers:

  • The number of over 65s out-numbers the number of under 16s. Life expectancy at birth has increased by over 2 years per decade since 1980s[i].
  • There is a projected shortage of 1 million paid carers by 2020[ii].
  • The value of unpaid care is now calculated at £132 billion[iii]. A significant increase on previous years as family members are having to do more as the state provides less.
  • However, the fastest growing group in the labour market is women aged over 50[iv]. Suggesting we cannot continue to rely on them to provide the care older generations need.
  • Older people are most likely to be cared for by a spouse, so more men are caring than ever before.

Our ageing population means we need to support workers of all ages – both men and women – in their struggle to combine work and care.

Fathers are sharing care, but are being held back, particularly those who earn less:

  • The predicted take-up of Shared Parental Leave was calculated to be at best 8%, in Sweden it’s 80%[v]
  • Fathers are less likely to request flexible working and more likely to have a request turned down[vi]

Mothers are working but trapped in low paid, part-time work:

  • The gender pay gap is now 13.9%[vii] and represents a loss of £600billion to the UK economy[viii]. One of the main causes is the unequal impact of caring roles when women become mothers.
  • The maternal employment rate in the UK is now at its highest with 74.5% of mothers with dependent children participating in the labour market[ix]. But 2 in 5 women who were not participating in the labour market gave “looking after the family/home” as the reason[x].
  • Evidence suggests that although women are in work they are working below their skill level with many concentrated in low paid part-time work. 44% of women work part-time but only 13% of men[xi] and just 27% of higher rate taxpayers are women[xii]. This picture has remained largely unchanged in recent years.
  • According to the TUC[xiii], nearly two-thirds of the 900,000 employees in the best-paid occupations – such as financial managers and medical practitioners – are male. There is also a lack of part-time positions in the top jobs. Employees are half as likely (13.7 per cent) to work part-time in top paying professions as they are in the rest of the labour market (28.3 per cent). Of the 2.6m employees in the ten lowest paying occupations 1.7m employees are female and 1.8m work part-time. Around three-quarters of waiters, waitresses and bar staff – the joint-lowest paid occupations with an average hourly wage of just £6.20 and where two-thirds of the workforce is female – work part-time.
  • The price that parents (of under 5s) in the UK pay for childcare has risen by 27% since 2010 and is significantly higher than parents in other parts of Europe[xiv].
  • UK parents rely heavily on grandparents for childcare but increasingly grandparents are working too. 1.9 million have either given up a job, reduced their hours or taken days off sick to provide childcare.[xv]

Older persons are net givers rather than net receivers of transfers[xvi] and are increasingly involved as providers of care themselves – either for their spouse and/or for grandchildren.[xvii]

A growing amount of elder care is being provided by migrant women as the formal domestic care sector increases.[xviii]



[i] ONS National Life Tables 2014 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lifetables/national-life-tables/2010—2012/index.html

[ii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11999151/Dire-outlook-for-elderly-as-carer-shortage-set-to-top-1m.html

[iii] Carers UK 2015 https://www.carersuk.org/news-and-campaigns/campaigns/we-care-don-t-you/value-my-care/valuing-carers-2015

[iv] Office for National Statistics, Participation rates in the labour market 2014 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/participation-rates-in-the-uk-labour-market/2014/art-2-women.html

[v] Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Modern Workplaces: Shared parental leave and pay administration consultation –impact assessment 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/110692/13-651-modern-workplaces-shared-parental-leave-and-pay-impact-assessment2.pdf

[vi] Working Families Modern Families Index 2015 http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/the-modern-families-index/

[vii] Fawcett Society gender pay gap mean calculation 2015 http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/our-work/issues/the-gender-pay-gap/

[viii] Government Equalities Office Gender Pay Gap Consultation https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/450878/Gender_Pay_Gap_Consultation.pdf

[ix] Office for National Statistics, Participation rates in the labour market 2014 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/participation-rates-in-the-uk-labour-market/2014/art-2-women.html

[x] Office for National Statistics, Participation rates in the labour market 2014 http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/participation-rates-in-the-uk-labour-market/2014/art-2-women.html

[xi] ONS Labour market statistics as cited by the EHRC http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/devolved-authorities/commission-scotland/legal-work-scotland/articles/women-men-and-part-time-work

[xii] Income Tax Liabilities Statistics 2011-12 – 2014-15. April 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/306818/Income_Tax_Liabilities_Statistics_-_April_2014.pdf

[xiii] TUC analysis of ASHE data. 2013 https://www.tuc.org.uk/economic-issues/labour-market/equality-issues/gender-equality/highest-paid-occupations-are-%E2%80%98no-go%E2%80%99

[xiv] Family and Childcare Trust childcare costs survey http://www.familyandchildcaretrust.org/childcare-cost-survey-2015

[xv] Time to care: generation generosity under pressure. Grandparents Plus, Family & Childcare Trust and Save the Children 2014. http://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Time-to-care-generation-generosity-under-pressure-July-2014.pdf

[xvi] OECD, 2012 http://www.oecd.org/els/family/PF1%207%20Intergenerational%20solidarity%20FINAL.pdf

[xvii] Seltzer, J. and Bianchi, S. (2013), “Demographic Change and Parent-Child Relationships in Adulthood”, Annual Review of Sociology, 39: 275-90

[xviii] Shutes, I. and Chiatti, C. (2012), “Migrant labour and the marketization of care for older people: The employment of migrant care workers by families and service providers”, European Journal of Social Policy, 22(4): 392-405