Nearly half of working-age women are providing an average of 45 hours of unpaid care every week, while 25% of men provide 17 hours, according to a study highlighting the gulf in unpaid care work.
Every year women in the UK are providing 23.2bn hours of unpaid childcare care worth an estimated £382bn, while men provide 9.7bn worth £160bn, according to research from the thinktank Center for Progressive Policy.
Calling unpaid work “one of the driving forces of gender-based inequalities in the workplace”, the CPP found that caring responsibilities “disproportionately impact women and exacerbate workplace inequality”.
The thinktank recommends increasing the amount of “free childcare” for three- to four-year-olds from 570 hours a year to 720 hours and expanding to the 15 hours a week allowance for disadvantaged two-year-olds to cover 48 weeks and funding for after-school and holiday clubs.
It also calls for a national target of 70% of job adverts highlighting flexibility by 2025 and a reform of parental leave that offers take-it-or-lose it paid leave for fathers and co-parents. Campaigners have long argued that current shared parental leave (SPL) policy is a “deeply flawed and chronically failing policy” and should be replaced.
A survey carried out for the What Women Want research found that women do most unpaid care work for adults, with one in five women reducing their hours and 830,000 unable to work entirely because they cared for an adult.
A quarter of women had reduced their hours at work to care for a child, while childcare prevented one in five women working more hours despite wanting to, the Yonder survey of 2,002 people found. One in five women caring for an adult also had reduced their paid hours.
Calling for flexible work to be made a day-one right for workers, the CPP said 45% of women said they could work more with more flexibility. Increased flexible working could increase the earnings of female carers by £28.4bn a year, and add £60bn a year to the UK economy.
Access to childcare needed to improve, working practices changed and unpaid work shared more equally if women were going to get an equal shot at work, said Dean Hochlaf, social policy expert at CPP. “The economic gains for women and wider society could be immense giving women greater control and choice in their working lives, and generating significant economic gains that benefit everyone,” he said.
It comes as the Coram Family and Childcare’s 21st annual childcare survey revealed that the cost of childcare for children under two has risen by 2.5% in the past year, while only 57% of local authorities report having sufficient childcare places for children under two. A survey by Pregnant Then Screwed and Mumsnet last week found that two-thirds of respondents were paying as much or more for their childcare than for their rent or mortgage.
The Labor MP Stella Creasy, said women were being squeezed from the workforce. “This is destabilizing our future financial security and draining talent from the economy,” she said. “We need the government to act and make balancing work and family life a reality for everyone, not just those who can afford it.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have invested more than £3.5bn in each of the last three years to deliver the government’s free childcare offers, including the 30 hours per week for working parents. We are also investing millions in Family Hubs – where families can access important support services.
“We continue to look for ways to improve the cost, choice and availability of childcare, and to further support working families we have brought forward flexible parental leave arrangements, including up to 52 weeks of maternity leave – one of the most generous entitlements in the world.”