Today in Britain many women in their fifties are providing child
care for their grandchildren. They are also likely to have
surviving parents, many of whom need their care. At the same time
two-thirds of them are active in the labour market.
Modest work-life balance policies have been developed to allow
employed parents with young children to work flexibly and in April
this year the prime minister announced that employees caring for
frail or disabled adults would be included in these policies. At
last it seemed that the informal care which older women – and some
men – are providing was being recognised.
However, when a month later it was announced that child care
provided within the child’s own home was to be included
within the child care tax credit scheme, it was made clear this
would exclude relatives. The House of Commons work and pensions
select committee explained the logic of this decision last year.
“Funding informal child care will not necessarily increase the
supply of child care providers as many informal carers will simply
be providing the care they would have provided anyway.”
The government estimates that extending the eligibility for
child care tax credit to nannies and other registered child care
workers will cost £11m annually (less than 5 per cent of the
total cost of CCTC).
The latest figures from the Labour Force Survey show that 1 per
cent of employed mothers employ a nanny compared with the 34 per
cent who depend on a grandparent’s child care. In 2002, 70
per cent of the typical two-parent family comprising one full-time
and one part-time earner, relied on a grandparent for some child
care. Lone parents are particularly dependent upon informal
Over a fifth pay for informal child care because the carers need
the money: some have given up their jobs or cut their hours in
order to care, and the pension rights of women who give up paid
employment to care for grandchildren are not protected.
The current working tax credit scheme could help more informal
carers if the work requirements for people working part-time
because they are regularly looking after a grandchild or adult in
need of care were brought in line with the requirements for parents
and people who themselves have a disability – ie reduced from
working 30 hours to 16 hours a week.
Rewarding grannies for child care may not increase the numbers
willing to do it but it might stop their numbers from falling.
Hilary Land is professor in family policy at the
University of Bristol.