A better deal for older women

30 Mar , 2014  

Fiona Mactaggart MP, Secretary of the Commission on Older Women, on Labour’s commitment to delivering for older women.

A year and a half ago we launched Labour’s Commission on Older Women, chaired by Harriet Harman. Our rationale was simple – older women are disappearing from all walks of life and this is simply not right.

Since then the Commission has gone around the country to hear the voices of as many older women as we can – a journey made possible by the enthusiasm of my fellow Commissioners; presenters Miriam O’Reilly and Arlene Phillips, journalists Jackie Ashley and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Kay Carberry, Gloria Mills and Agnes Tolmie from the trade unions, Sonia Mangan from Age UK, Welsh AM Julie Morgan, media executive Dawn Airey and academic and Sure-Start innovator Naomi Eisenstadt.

The Commission was charged with investigating older women’s experiences in three critical areas – in the workplace, in their caring responsibilities and in public life. The cost of living bears hard on this group – the pay gap between men and women over 50 is nearly twice that for the population at large. Poorly paid part-time jobs and precarious zero hours contracts are common features of older women’s employment. Older women get less training and promotion, too many end up being pushed out of their careers. They struggle to balance work and caring, for children, grandchildren or elderly relatives, sometimes for all three, and many elect to give up work altogether – a loss to the economy we can’t afford. And older women role models, especially in the media, just disappear.

Put simply, we have found that this is an agenda whose time has come. In written evidence, discussions and listening events, older women’s voices have spoken again and again of the difficulties, opposition and outright discrimination faced by older women in the workplace, as they care for their loved ones and when taking part in public life.

And others have quickly picked up the baton. The TUC launched a major research project on older women, Age Immaterial, and has just published its challenging report on women over 50 in the workplace. And UNISON commissioned a survey of their older women members culminating in the recent report ‘Women Deserve Better – a better deal for women aged 50 and over in the workplace’.

Labour recognised the injustice of double discrimination – such as by gender and age – in the 2010 Equality Act and included provisions to outlaw it. But the Government has chosen to mothball this.

In the 1960s, Labour women campaigned and delivered an equal pay act. This was followed by maternity rights and childcare. Now is the time for a better deal for older women – for flexibility at work and for caring, for proper representation and for a certain future when we want to retire. A Labour government will deliver it.

Fiona tweets @fionamacmp

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