Grandparents ‘need right to unpaid leave’

Grandparents should have a new right to unpaid leave so they can combine looking after their grandchildren with their jobs, according to the TUC.

Its research shows nearly seven million grandparents provide regular childcare to children under 16, mainly to allow parents to work. The majority of these work themselves, but are currently only entitled to take short periods of unpaid leave for emergencies.

A TUC poll shows a new right to unpaid leave enjoys considerable support from both grandparents – 42 per cent support the policy, just 26 per cent oppose – and parents (50 per cent support, 21 per cent oppose). It says the government has an opportunity to introduce unpaid leave for grandparents as the Children and Families Bill reaches its report stage in the House of Lords later today.

The TUC has conducted a YouGov poll which shows the the most popular reason for grandparents looking after their grandchildren, cited by 50 per cent, was to allow the child’s parents to work. This was the reason also given by 45 per cent of mums and dads with children under 16 who are looked after by their grandparents.

The informal care provided by millions of grandparents is saving working families thousands of pounds a year on costly nursery and childminding fees, as well as helping parents to stay in work and continue their careers, says the TUC.

The polling also shows that working grandparents are more likely (63 per cent) to look after their grandchildren than retired grandparents (55 per cent). While grandparents have always played an important role in looking after their grandchildren, the record number of people now working into their late 60s means that many are taking on childcare responsibilities for a second time while they are still working, says the TUC.

With the average weekly wage higher for people in their 30s (£468) than for those their 50s (£427.80) and 60s (£320.90), some families may feel it makes financial sense for a grandparent to reduce their hours and provide informal care, rather than or in addition to a parent in order to ease the pressure on childcare bills, says the TUC.

However, the TUC believes that this caring role is often not recognised or understood by employers. Of working grandparents who have never taken time off work to care for grandchildren under 16, around one in 10 have not been able to do so because they have either been refused time off by their employer (3 per cent), or simply felt that they weren’t able to ask (8 per cent).

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The informal childcare that millions of grandparents regularly provide is one of the most important and unheralded forms of care in Britain today.

“The childcare provided by grandparents allows mums and dads to work, saves them money on nursery and childminder fees, and creates a special bond across different generations in a family.

“But with more people than ever before working into their late 60s, millions of grandparents are selflessly taking on childcare responsibilities for a second time while they still work. Many businesses have yet to keep up with this trend and thousands of grandparents who want to look after their grandkids are prevented from doing so.

“It’s important that public policy catches up with the needs of working grandparents and their families. A new right to unpaid leave would be a great way to get more working grandparents involved in childcare, and at very little cost to an employer.”

Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus Sam Smethers said: “Family life is changing and it’s time that government and employers caught up.

“Grandparents are picking up the strain that families are under and providing an increasing amount of childcare. But they are under pressure themselves, working longer and struggling to combine paid work with caring.

“We risk a ‘childcare gap’ emerging – with parents paying the price – if grandparents cannot afford to reduce their hours or can’t get the flexibility they need.  The solution is a period of grandparental leave and an investment in formal childcare.”

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