Grandmother of six Jill Garner outlines the challenges faced by today’s grandparents.
‘Two-fifths (five million) of the nation’s grandparents over the age of 50 are providing regular childcare for their grandchildren’ wrote Age UK in 2017. Numbers must have increased since then – as parents know from bitter experience – given childcare costs have risen steadily over recent years, family benefits have been cut or capped and wages have flatlined. I’ve read about working mums and dads relying on foodbanks to feed their families – how on earth can they afford childcare? No wonder working parents are turning to us grandparents for help.
Age UK’s survey included grandparents over 50 so many of these must be working, have school-age children themselves and/or be caring for elderly parents. How do they manage? I’ve heard about working grandparents changing to part time or even giving up their jobs to do childcare simply so their children can get to work, but this has huge ramifications, including financial ones. And many use their annual leave to help out, particularly during the summer holidays. Yes, they can apply to work flexibly, but this may not necessarily be agreed by employers. Should they really have to consider any of this?
And is each one of these five million grandparents ok with helping out? I’m sure that, like me, many of them are and, of course, there are lots of pluses. In a recent Yougov survey respondents said that it makes them feel closer to their grandkids, keeps them physically and mentally active, stops them feeling lonely, gives them a sense of purpose etc etc – though this sounds to me like people who are retired or not working. But many might find that a walk in the park with one lively grandchild or more is not exactly a walk in the park. Friends have told me they feel under pressure to help and/or their offspring feel guilty and obligated, all of which has put a strain on family relationships. Friends have also said that they get drawn into family issues or end up not having the energy for a life of their own.
I was still working full time when my first granddaughter arrived nearly 20 years ago. My workplace had a system of TOIL (time off instead of overtime pay) which was helpful. Some workplaces still have this system, but what about those working grandparents who really need the overtime pay? And work situations are far more complicated these days what with the gig economy, zero hours contracts etc, and though some people might find these helpful in juggling childcare, others dash about totally stressed out at constantly trying to keep the spinning plates in the air. And supposing both parents and grandparents are working like this, how does that work? Also, the powers-that-be are saying that in future people are going to have to work into their 70s – Grandparents Plus has warned of a childcare gap crisis in the future. What happens then?
So isn’t it about time that politicians knocking on our doors in the lead-up to the general election realised that the UK economy would grind to a halt if us five million grandparents weren’t able to help out? And shouldn’t we have a completely free choice over whether to do it or not? Other countries manage, for instance, Sweden, where, after a baby is born or adopted, paid parental leave is over a year and each child is guaranteed a childcare place. Also, no parent is charged more than 3% of their salary for childcare with fees capped at around 135 euros a month and low-income families pay nothing. So, hey you politicians, I know you’ve just released your childcare proposals pledging loads of cash etc, etc. But enough of this complicated bits and pieces childcare funding – we’re one of the richest countries in the world, surely we can fund something straightforward like the Swedish system!