Two-thirds of women with childcare responsibilities believe they have missed out on career progression as a direct result, business leaders have warned, amid growing pressure on the government to boost support for parents.
Ahead of next week’s budget, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said tackling barriers to work posed by soaring childcare costs and a lack of support for elderly or disabled relatives was vital for equality and the economy.
In a landmark survey of more than 4,000 women, it found as many as 67% felt childcare duties in the past decade had cost them progress at work – including pay rises, promotions, or career development. Almost 90% believed that additional support was needed.
In the study, released to coincide with International Women’s Day, BCC, which represents thousands of companies across the UK, also found that three-quarters of women said there was not sufficient support for those going through menopause.
Shevaun Haviland, the BCC’s director general, said urgent action was required from the government and employers to break down barriers and ensure women had the same opportunities as men.
“Tackling these issues is integral not only to the wellbeing of our women and workplaces, it is crucial to the functioning of any strong economy,” she said.
The intervention adds to pressure on the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to use his upcoming budget to provide more support for parents to work, amid warnings from economists that sky-high childcare costs are among the reasons why thousands of people have quit the jobs market.
Hunt is widely expected to place growing workforce participation at the heart of his statement, but is thought to be unlikely to announce major new funding for childcare amid government concerns over the public finances.
However, charities, trade unions, and business groups argue that supporting more people to work could benefit the economy in the longer term.
New analysis by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and the Women’s Budget Group, published on Wednesday, finds the barriers to paid work faced by women mean almost £90bn of gross value added is lost to the economy in England, Scotland and Wales each year – equivalent to the entire contribution of the financial services industry.
Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress has calculated that almost 1.5 million women are kept out of the labour market because of their caring responsibilities, compared with 230,000 men, making them seven times as likely to stand outside the workforce.
In analysis published as the annual TUC women’s conference starts in London on Wednesday, the unions’ umbrella group said this showed ministers had to act now to keep women in work, make sure they are paid fairly, and to properly address the gender pay gap.
Paul Nowak, the TUC general secretary, said: “We desperately need funded high-quality childcare for all families, free at the point of use, so women can stay in work once they have kids.
“Ministers must change the law so that every single job is advertised with the possible flexible options stated, and all workers must have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”
Separate analysis by the jobs website Adzuna shows that less than 3% out of job adverts online mention support for women. It called on employers to rethink the benefits they offer to help women stay in work and thrive, while highlighting that more job adverts mention free gym membership or unlimited holidays than menopause support.
Highlighting gender gaps despite progress made in recent years, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned in its own report that inequalities between men and women for income from private pensions were set to persist for decades.
It said the difference between men’s and women’s average state pension incomes, for those born in the 1950s, had closed to essentially zero over the past decade. However, women still had private pension incomes about 45% lower than men.
The IFS said this was almost entirely driven by differences in labour market patterns – employment rates, hours worked and hourly wages – which particularly open up after the birth of children.
Laurence O’Brien, research economist at IFS, said the divisions persisted even for younger age groups: “As these generations will not retire for many decades, we can expect a gender gap in pension incomes to remain for a long time yet.”