Press Release: CPP’s latest report finds caring responsibilities are disproportionately impacting women in the UK

CPP is calling for greater flexibility to be offered to women in the workplace.

11 April 2022

11 minute read

Women are providing 23.2 billion hours of unpaid childcare care per year – men provide just 9.7 billion, finds thinktank Centre for Progressive Policy

  • CPP’s latest report, finds caring responsibilities are disproportionately impacting women in the UK, contributing to, and exacerbating workplace inequalities.
  • The report found that 830,000 women are currently unable to work because they are caring for an adult.
  • CPP is calling for greater flexibility to be offered to women in the workplace, which could bring up to 5 million women into the workforce and boost earnings of female carers by up to £28.4bn per annum.

The Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP) has conducted a deep dive into one of the driving forces of gender-based inequalities in the workplace – the division of unpaid care. The think tank's latest report, What Women Want, reveals that women in the UK are providing more than twice as much unpaid childcare per year as men (23.2 billion hours vs. 9.7 billion hours) as well as spending more time caring for adults than men.

Women are disproportionately the ones making sacrifices in their careers to meet these caring responsibilities, which contributes to gender pay and pension gaps and results in financial insecurity, uncertainty, and instability for millions of women across the country.

CPP has demonstrated that these caring demands are detrimental to both individual women, and to the wider workforce. What Women Want finds that 830,000 women who provide care for an adult are unable to work entirely on account of their care responsibilities:

  • One in four (26%) women providing unpaid care to a child had reduced their hours at work.
  • One in five (20%) women providing childcare are prevented from working more hours despite wanting to work more.
  • One in five (20%) women who provide unpaid care for an adult reduced their hours at work.

CPP’s research has found that millions of women want to work more hours, if only they had more flexible working opportunities. 45% of women who care for others said they would be able to take on more hours, while around one in five (20%) said they would be able to take on a new role. 14% said they would be able to take on a different job, potentially suggesting that new opportunities could become available.

What Women Want shows that more flexible working would deliver significant benefits to women, boosting the earnings of female carers by £28.4bn per annum, delivering new working opportunities for up to 5 million women and an overall boost to the UK’s economy of over £60bn per annum.

With women taking on the provision of a disproportionate share of unpaid care, they would particularly benefit from more moves towards embracing flexible working. However, we also need greater investment in formal care provision and for workplaces to be able to adapt.

CPP has developed a number of recommendations to support employers and workplaces in this transition:

  • Establishing a national target to ensure that 70% of non-emergency roles are advertised as flexible by 2025
  • Creating a default flexible working option to be applied to all new job adverts posted on all major job websites
  • Requiring all employers to consider flexible working arrangements for all new applicants
  • Expanding access to training and development for management and leadership teams to help them understand how to positively respond to flexible working requests and foster a culture where flexible working is more normalised

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, said: Women are too easily written off from the labour market because we expect them to take on duties from dawn to dusk. Childcare, and now ever increasing adult social care responsibilities, are squeezing them from the workforce, destabilising our future financial security and draining talent from the economy in the process. It is imperative that we act now - both in government and as a society - to empower women to balance these competing demands. I am pleased that the Centre for Progressive Policy is shining a light on the extent of the problem - now we need the Government to act and make balancing work and family life a reality for everyone, not just those who can afford it.

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the UK Women’s Budget Group, said: “It is a well known and disappointing fact that women do most of the unpaid care work in the UK. Forecasted shortages in the care sector are sounding the alarm that this issue is only set to worsen in the coming months and years. It is therefore essential that flexible working solutions are implemented without delay to support women to find and retain secure, good jobs now and in the years to come. Delivering equality in the labour market is an economically sound investment, as well as an inarguable social imperative.”

Dean Hochlaf, Social Policy Expert at CPP, said: “Women cannot continue to be denied opportunities in the labour market because of the unfair and unequal division of unpaid care. Action is needed to improve access to formal care services, adapt working practices to the needs of those who provide unpaid care and to spread unpaid care responsibilities more evenly between men and women.

The economic gains for women and wider society could be immense. We estimate that just through improving access to flexible working, the total earnings of women could be boosted by almost £30bn a year, while wider economic output could be increased by over £60bn. Tackling gender inequalities in the provision of unpaid care would help give women greater control and choice over their working lives, and could generate significant economic gains that benefit everyone”

Notes to editor:

  • Yonder surveyed a representative sample of 2,002 people between 3rd to 7th of March 2022, aged between 16 - 64 in the UK. Full results can be found here.
  • Women spend almost 450 million hours per week providing childcare (or 23.2bn hours per year) worth an estimated £382bn per annum. Women also spend over 90 hours per week providing care to an adult (or 4.7bn hours per year) worth an estimated £50bn per annum.
  • By comparison, men spend 186 million hours per week providing childcare (or 9.7bn hours per year) worth an estimated £160bn per annum. And they spend 87 million hours per week providing care for an adult (or 4.5bn hours per year) worth an estimated £48bn per annum.
  • Just under half (47%) of women aged 16 to 64 have provided some form of unpaid care for a child in the last 6 months, while 1 in 5 (22%) women in this age group have provided some form of unpaid care to an adult during the same time period. Among women providing childcare, 66% said the provision of care had an impact on their work, while among those providing care for an adult, 59% said the provision of care had an impact on their work. Respondents cited a range of ways in which care had impacted their work, including a reduction in hours, turning down potential job opportunities, and leaving the workforce entirely.
  • 45% of women surveyed who provide care for others, said they would be able to take on more hours if their employer allowed them to work more flexibly, while almost 20% said they would be able to take on a new role. 19% said they would be able to take on a different job, potentially suggesting that new opportunities could become available.
  • When asked to rank those institutions and individuals they felt were most responsible for supporting those with care responsibilities to take on paid work, it was found that: 71% of working-aged women included the Government in their top three options, with 40% ranking it their first; 59% of working-aged women included partners in their top three options, while 53% included friends and family; 55% of working-aged women included employers in their top three options. From this bespoke polling, the three key areas where solutions are required to rebalancing the gendered division of unpaid care were found to be:
  1. Distributing unpaid care responsibilities more fairly within the household
  1. Supporting those who provide unpaid care to better accommodate work responsibilities
  1. Reducing demand for unpaid care by offering professional alternatives

CPP’s full policy recommendations are as follows:

  1. The existing childcare funding formula should be replaced with an audit system conducted by local authorities to more accurately determine the cost of hourly, subsidised care working arrangement should be entitled to a 20-day trial to establish feasibility
  2. The number of available hours for free childcare for three to four-year-olds should rise from 570 hours per year to 720 hours per year, expanding the 15 hours per week allowance to cover 48 weeks.
  3. The establishment of a central government fund to invest in after-school activities and holiday clubs for children in school
  4. The creation of a What Works Network for childcare, with a focus on investigating good practice and supporting the creation of more childcare places.
  5. A new organisation, Skills for Childcare, should be established with a remit to monitor the state of the childcare workforce and coordinate action to support staff development
  6. The right to request a flexible working arrangement should be a day one rights, with the possibility of trials made available, in line with best practice. The limitation on requests should also be reduced to 6 months
  7. The UK Government should use various means to increase the uptake of management training aimed at helping foster a culture and practice of flexible working
  8. Large job searching websites should be mandated to include flexible working as a default option when designing job adverts and that the Government should set a national target of 70% of new job adverts highlighting flexibility by 2025
  9. We recommend following a series of high-level principles for reforming existing parental leave, built on preserving and enhancing existing maternity rights, offering non-transferable leave for fathers and co-parents, and boosting the rate of statutory pay

About CPP

The Centre for Progressive Policy is a think tank committed to making inclusive economic growth a reality. By working with national and local partners, our aim is to devise effective, pragmatic policy solutions to drive productivity and shared prosperity in the UK. Inclusive growth is one of the most urgent questions facing advanced economies where stagnant real wages are squeezing living standards and wealth is increasingly concentrated. CPP believes that a new approach to growth is needed, harnessing the best of central and local government to shape the national economic environment and build on the assets and opportunities of place. The Centre for Progressive Policy is funded by Lord Sainsbury and hosts the Inclusive Growth Network which is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.