The friction between work and caring responsibilities has a long and troubled history. It is a key reason why women leave the labour market and an enduring source of the gender pay gap.
But addressing this challenge has, in one respect, been one of Britain’s biggest labour market success over the last 20 years: caring responsibilities for new mothers.
The combination of new rights (statutory maternity leave), responsibilities (job search requirements) and financial incentives (tax credits) have kept new mums attached to the labour market and boosted maternal employment. And, of course, while government creates the framework through statutory minimums, good employers can, and often do, go a lot further.
We should heed these lessons when it comes to supporting staff with caring responsibilities in later life.
First, we should remember that the key to boosting employment, and therefore incomes, for older workers is not about getting people into work, but helping them stay in work. We propose a new right to return for up to 12 months following a period of ill-health. This call was recently taken up by the Taylor Review so the onus is now on government to respond.
Second, stronger earnings growth will not only boost employees’ incomes today but once they retire too, helping to support care costs in later life. As well as the fairly obvious action of offering staff a bigger pay rise, employers should also be mindful of their employees’ retirement income, particularly their workplace pension.
Auto-enrolment will have tackled the long tail of staff who are not saving at all. The next challenge is to tackle those who are not saving enough by increasing contributions. Again, employers should be ahead of the game on this, offering more than the minimum rates to help staff build up their pension pots.
David Finch is senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation