MORE than half of grandparents provide regular unpaid childcare for their families.
Many parents in our region will be aware of the detrimental effects childcare costs have on a household.
In some cases, the costs outweigh earnings, making it impractical for some parents to return to work once they have a child.
Now the Trades Union Congress is calling for UK businesses to offer more flexibility to grandparents, after a YouGov poll revealed this week that seven million older people have stepped in to fill the gap – many of them holding down their own jobs.
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “With more people than ever before working into their late 60s, millions of grandparents are selflessly taking on childcare responsibilities for a second time while they still work.
“Many businesses have yet to keep up with this trend and thousands of grandparents who want to look after their grandchildren are prevented from doing so.
“A new right to unpaid leave would be a great way to get more working grandparents involved in childcare, and at very little cost to an employer.”
According to Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus, it is important public policy catches up with the needs of working grandparents and their families.
Ms Smethers said: “We risk a ‘childcare gap’ emerging – with parents paying the price – if grandparents cannot afford to reduce their hours or can’t get the flexibility they need. The solution is a period of grandparental leave and an investment in formal childcare.”
We put the issue to parents and grandparents in Flintshire and Wrexham, and the response was almost universally supportive of the proposed measure.
Care assistant Tamara Poli, 21, of Pen Y Lan near Wrexham, has a
10-month-old baby girl called Taryn.
She said: “If it wasn’t for my mother, I wouldn’t have been able to go back to work. It would take all of my money if I was to place Taryn in childcare.
“After my maternity leave ended, I was offered weekend hours at my job in Wrexham, but I couldn’t do it if I hadn’t known a family member could have Taryn.”
That her mother Claire Evans, who lives in Oswestry, can look after Taryn, means Tamara has reclaimed some freedom, as well as preventing a gap opening up in her work history.
Claire works full time.
Tamara said: “She spends a few hours on Saturday and Sunday looking after Taryn, and it’s brilliant.
“It means Taryn is getting used to being with people who are not her mum and dad, and it allows me some independence as I’m earning my own money.”
Tamara believes she is lucky to have Claire’s help, but she has put a part-time degree on hold to juggle her job and motherhood.
She said: “If things were more flexible, and mum could take the Friday off, then perhaps I could go back to that. I think it’s a really good idea.”
Claire agreed that employers should be more flexible.
She said: “It means more than anything, really, to be able to look after my granddaughter. It’s just good times.
“I work full time for a publishers, and I’d like it if employers were more flexible.
“It’s bad enough if you’re a parent and there’s an emergency. But grandparents don’t seem to register – when it comes to leave, they don’t stand a chance at all.”
Leah Baines, 36, of Tan y Fron near Wrexham, had to return to work five months after her daughter was born.
She said: “I would be lost without my child’s grandparents. I can only go to work becomes they are able to look after my child, there is no way we could afford any kind of child care on our wages. It’s just not an option for us. We can just about cover our mortgage and the car as it is.
“I feel I’m very lucky that my child has such good grandparents who invest a lot of time in her. They have a fantastic relationship, which will give my child great memories when she’s older.”
Leah’s parents-in-law live a short walk away from their house, freeing Leah up to return to the workplace.
She said: “Aiyana is seven. My husband keeps telling me her relationship with her grandparents is different to the one he had with his dad, but back then he was working – which is another point.
“Having someone who can be there for you when you’re growing up is important. I’m forever indebted to them. It brings you peace of mind knowing Aiyana is somewhere she is loved.”
She was cautious about the TUC proposal, though.
She said: “I think there are some people who just can’t afford to take unpaid leave. It’s difficult. Employers need somebody to do the work.”
“I just hope if I’m a grandparent one day I will be able to be as useful to my daughter.”
What do you think? Email us at rhian.waller @nwn.co.uk
l A number of people expressed scepticism as to whether the measure would work.
One Wrexham woman, who did not wish to be named, asked who could afford to take unpaid leave in the current financial climate?
Single mother Erinna O’Connell, a former student in Wrexham now living in Royston, said: “I couldn’t manage without my son’s grandma and cousin. I wouldn’t be able to work. Unpaid leave might not help though.”
Jo Jeffreys, 30, of Wrexham, said her own mother had sacrificed her career to care for children.
She said: “My mum finished work to help look after my first child and now my second. As she didn’t work when we were younger she is not eligible for a state pension due to helping me out.”
Michelle Tulk, 45, of Wrexham, said: “I look after my grandson every day while my daughter goes out to work to support her son and herself.”
Laura Jade Williams, 25, of Wrexham, said: “I couldn’t manage without my parents and other half’s parents.”
Karen Murphy, 49, of Wrexham, said: “If I didn’t look after my grandkids my daughter wouldn’t be able to work. Simple as that.
“I do the school runs too. Grandparents don’t get recognised for childcare. Parents can pay a childminder and claim child care payment for that but not for a grandparent.”