Three out of five women say their caring responsibilities for children and other vulnerable or elderly relatives are preventing them from applying for a new job or promotion, while only one in five men say the same, according to new research.
The poll of 5,444 people by Ipsos Mori and the charity Business in the Community (BITC) found that nearly half the workforce are combining paid work and care. Almost three in 10 adults have left or considered leaving a job because of difficulties in balancing work and care. The latter was particularly true of women.
The majority of those with care responsibilities in the UK are parents looking after children under the age of 18, but 36% of carers are responsible for an adult of working age or older.
Those from a black, Asian, mixed race or other ethnically diverse background were significantly more likely to say they have caring responsibilities than those from a white background. As many as 50% of carers from an ethnic minority say their caring responsibilities are holding them back from applying for promotions or new positions at work, compared to 39% of white carers.
BITC Gender Equality campaign director Charlotte Woodworth said the results showed the disconnect between what workers – particularly women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds – need from employers and what they experience in the labour market. “There’s a lot of competing ideas about how we should try to improve the lot of women, how we should try and create a more levelled-up society. This report tells us very clearly how significantly workplace policies and workplace cultures are undermining those efforts,” she said.
Workers on low incomes are among the most badly treated. While some 75% of those earning £26,000 or more said they felt supported by their employer to manage their caring responsibilities for children, this dropped to just one in two people earning less than that amount.
The research shows nearly one in 10 carers are “sandwich carers”, meaning they have caring responsibilities for both a child and an adult.
Instead of expecting women, for example, to somehow juggle it all, workplaces need to change, Woodworth says: “It’s very clear that some groups are much more dramatically affected than others, and have a much harder time than others, but it’s not about problematising those groups, it’s about the workplace shifting its expectations, its norms, its cultures to better reflect the needs of the people who are trying to engage with it.”
The charity wants the government and employers to offer new fathers more ring-fenced, paid time off to look after their children when they are born, so that childcare responsibilities can be shared more equally between couples from the start of a child’s life.
The research found that even among women who identify as joint carers, 52% say they do “more than my fair share”, in comparison to 10% of men. One in three men admit they do “less than my fair share”, in comparison to 4% of women. Women are also significantly more likely than men to say their day job has been interrupted because of caring responsibilities, with many women saying they do more than their fair share because their partner’s working pattern or culture is unsupportive of work and care.
She hopes employers and the government will see the pandemic as a watershed moment. “The pandemic was bad for a lot of people with care responsibilities, and it was particularly bad on the gendered front. When lockdown happened, women were more likely to be furloughed and working mothers were more likely to lose their jobs than working fathers.”
But at the same time, she says, the pandemic made everyone more aware of the challenges faced by working carers. “It did have the effect of making people more aware of how hard it is to combine paid work with care, and it challenged and debunked a lot of old-fashioned ideas around what effective and productive work looks like.”