You’ve probably heard of the UK’s under-employment crisis, where three million people in Britain today are stuck in part-time jobs despite wanting full-time work, or want more hours in their current job.

But while three million people want more work, and a further 2.5 million have no work at all, there are also millions of people who actually want less hours in their current job.

Chief among those wanting few hours at work are women over 50, because they need to combine work with caring for loved ones, or want to reduce their hours as they approach retirement.

Many of the women that have contacted the Age Immaterial campaign have caring responsibilities not only for a grandchild, but often their own parents too. It’s impossible to combine all this with a 40 hour a week job, and a life of your own.

The fact that so many older women – two in five – want fewer hours in their current jobs is surprising given that around half already work part-time. This suggests that many women who want fewer hours from their employer aren’t being listened to – and have to move into new part-time jobs instead.

Unfortunately there is often a big financial penalty for moving into part-time work – on average employees earn a third less per hour than full-time workers. And because of the dearth of high quality part-time work, it can also damage your career. Shedding career ambitions may not have been a concern for workers over 50 in the past, but as we are now expected to work until 65 or even later, 15-20 years is a long time to spend in a lower paid job than you’re used to.

Forcing staff to move jobs, rather than keeping them on by adjusting their hours, is a short-sighted approach that leads employers to lose talented and highly experienced staff.

The solution is obvious – more flexibility in working hours and the opening up of more senior roles to part-time work. But while some businesses already do this, far too many refuse to budge from the old 9-5 work routine, even it doesn’t suit their staff or customers.

As the population ages, the caring burden on older women is only going to increase. With people expected to work for longer as well, we need a better system of work that allows people to combine earning with caring, as well as better funded public services so that the entire burden doesn’t fall on women.

Part of the TUC’s work will be persuading government to introduce stronger flexible working rights and making the case for better public services. But just as important is the work that union reps do in workplaces across the country in securing better working arrangements for people at work.

Posted on March 15th, 2013 by Rob Holdsworth filed under: Blog, Work