Older women becoming ‘forgotten generation’ of Scotland

OLDER women are becoming Scotland’s “forgotten generation” due to a widening gender pay gap and increasing caring demands, campaigners have warned.

A stark new report out this week will lay bare the challenges facing women over the age of 50, many of whom are struggling to find jobs or unable to work because they are looking after their parents or grandchildren.

For those in work, the study by the Scottish Commission on Older Women (SCOW) found widespread examples of pay inequality, job insecurity due to workers being “managed out” to make way for younger colleagues, underemployment and “implicit and explicit age discrimination that leaves many older women feeling vulnerable in the workplace”.

The Commission concludes that both UK and Scottish Government policies have failed to keep pace with the way the work and caring demands placed on older women have changed and calls for the public sector to lead the way with a string of initiatives such as:

- Implementing flexible working for older women.

  • Introducing statutory entitlement to carers’ leave.

- Making full use of powers to mitigate the disproportionate impact of welfare reforms on women.

- Securing greater pay transparency in the private and public sector which will contribute to a narrowing of the gender pay gap

- Using the public sector’s multi-billion pound purchasing power to force private firms to take the issue of older women’s employment more seriously.

Agnes Tolmie, co-chairwoman of SCOW said: “Women have told us that when they get to a certain age, most often from their 50s but it can be earlier, they feel the pressure begins.

“Pressure to prove their worth to an organisation or prove that they shouldn’t be passed over for a younger colleague.

“That could be something like asking to going on a training course but told effectively ‘you’ve made your choices’ and this is for the younger ones.
The other pressure is caring, many women can’t afford not to work but have caring pressures either with say their parents or their own children. So many older women we spoke to are also looking after their grandchildren because their own kids simply can’t afford the childcare.

“It is a mind-set long engrained but we need to try and change the culture and if nothing else there are votes in this, we need the politicians to listen but the private sector shouldn’t be let off the hook either.

“There are next to no policies for older workers and this needs to change. Older women in Scotland are becoming the forgotten generation.”

The report describes a “pivot generation” with women often expected to combine care for their parents, children and increasingly so, grandchildren.

It concludes: “The evidence is that many older women in Scotland are leaving the labour market entirely due to the complexity or caring demands and the incompatibility of these demands with jobs that are inflexible.”

More than 13,000 women between the ages of 50 and 64 in Scotland are currently unemployed, up 30% since 2010.

Over the same period, unemployment for men between of that age has decreased by 23%.

For all women in work, according to the Office for National Statistics, the pay gap with men jumped from 6.6% to 9.9% between 2011 and last year.

But worst hit were older workers.

The think-tank Fiscal Affairs Scotland has suggested the gender pay gap is worst for older women, with those aged 50 to 55 likely to earn half as much as a man of the same age.

The Equal Pay Act, sparked by the Ford sewing machinists’ strike which inspired the Made in Dagenham film, was passed in 1970.

But this year marks the 10th anniversary of the start of equal pay disputes across Scotland where thousands of public sector workers — cooks, cleaners, home carers and catering staff — were owed money for not being paid the same as male colleagues.

At the other end of the earnings spectrum, the Law Society of Scotland recently published research showing a 42% gender pay gap among its members.

Both the UK Governments have made some moves on the issue. The Scottish Government launched a “women’s pledge” on gender equality, with Nicola Sturgeon making the issue a priority during her time in office.

And last month the UK Government announced that businesses employing more than 250 people will be obliged to publish wage data by gender.

This story, based on an authorised advance of a report out tomorrow, first appeared in today’s print edition of The Sunday Post.