The TUC women’s conference heard pleas for more action on carers, the menopause and the gender pension gap.
“We must care for the carers so they can carry on caring,” a member of Unite told the TUC women’s conference last week.
Criticising “the pitiful” carers allowance – at £69.70 per week – and the fact that it generally stops at state pension age if the State Pension is worth more than the allowance, she said that research by the Carers Trust found 48% of unpaid carers have to leave work, of whom the majority are women.
Another speaker from PCS pointed out that legislation for carers leave was left to a Private Member’s Bill after the Employment Bill it was due to be in was shelved. Even so, it only allows for a week of unpaid leave. She wants the leave to be extended to two weeks and paid, in line with paternity leave. She herself had been a carer for her husband who suffered traumatic brain injury several years ago. She said even then social care support was limited – with staffing and funding crises that has only got worse. She cited figures showing a halving of the number of people being able to access respite care in the last five years, showing the pressure on carers.
A member of the National Education Union spoke of how her sister had been an unpaid carer for her mum who had motor neurone disease. With no access to respite care, she left school at 15 and became a 24/7 carer at the expense of her mental health. She died in her 40s of alcoholism. The teacher said she sees child carers in her classroom going through the same thing. Many end up being unemployable, she said, and face a lifetime of poverty.
Conference delegates also passed motions on the gender pension gap, with a member of Equity, aged 39, recounting how she had received a letter telling her she would have a pension of 765 pounds because she could only afford to pay 10 pounds a month into her pension. If she chose to retire at 75 that could increase to 1,100 pounds. Citing figures showing the average actor earns just 10k a year with women more penalised than men due to the impact of caring on their earnings, she said: “I want to be old and I want the autonomy to age well. Women are stuck in this system and we must fight for pension parity. Let us age well and let us live long enough so we can take apart the frigging system.”
The conference also heard calls for menopause leave and listened to women recounting cases of women not understanding that brain fog or depression or sleeplessness were signs of the menopause and blaming themselves for resulting performance issues. A member from the RMT said the law did little to protect menopausal women and added that there is little health and safety awareness about it. She called for women to be able to make dual discrimination claims under age and sex characteristics in relation to menopause.