The increase in women’s state pension age could force mothers and daughters to withdraw the free, informal care they give the UK’s rapidly ageing population, a paper has warned.
The report, titled Should I Care or Should I Work? The Impact of Work on Informal Care, says this family care must be urgently replaced by significant increases in state spending otherwise families will have to exhaust their savings buying care privately. For families who cannot find or afford to buy in care, however, older relatives’ lives will be put in danger, the authors say.
Researchers from three European universities used data from the Office for National Statistics and the UK Household Longitudinal Study to criticise the government’s recent decision to increase the female state pension age (SPA) by up to six years, with further pension reforms being reviewed by the government.
The move is, they found, exacerbating what experts had described even before the changes to SPA as a perfect storm of limited financial resources, significant workforce challenges and increasingly complex population needs.
“Our results provide evidence of a trade-off between the intensive margin of work and informal care provided outside the household: an increase in work time by 30 hours a week due to raising SPA will lead to a drop in care time of 6.3 hours a week, valued about £6,500 a year for each caregiver,” said the lead author of the report, Ludovico Carrino, from the Department of Economics at the University of Trieste in Italy.
The researchers also found that there is no alternative help available from other family members or formal services for most older people whose current caregiver can no longer care for them because of the pension reforms.
“As a result, total support for older parents shrinks when their current family carers work longer, potentially leading to higher unmet needs in the elderly,” said Carrino.
Women take on almost 60% of informal carefor family and friends at a value estimated at £132bn a year, slightly short of yearly public spending on health.
The need for long-term care was already becoming urgent before the increase of the SPA for women as a result of an ageing population, with demand for adult social care projected to grow at about £12.2bn a year by 2030 to 2031. Merely maintaining the existing system will, it is estimated, leave a funding gap of £6.1bn a year by 2030 to 2031.
A paper by Age UK shows that private care is already in short supply: it says 170,000 hours a week of home care could not be delivered because of a shortage of care workers during the first three months of 2022, seven times more than in the spring of 2021.
The study by researchers from the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health at King’s College London, the Universities of Trieste and Lausanne, and the ONS found the reduction in caregiving is largest among women working in physically or psychologically demanding jobs, and ‘sandwich-generation’ women who have a living grandchild and a parent who require care.
Emily Holzhausen, the director of policy at Carers UK, said the research had revealed the “real and hidden” cost to increasing the SPA. “Raising the SPA just backs families further into a corner where they are forced to choose between providing unpaid care and giving up work to care, with catastrophic consequences for their finances in the short or longer term, or staying in work struggling to find social care, which is in incredibly short supply or simply doesn’t exist.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The government has launched the second State Pension Age Review. This, as previous reviews have done, will consider whether the rules around State Pension age are appropriate, based on a wide range of evidence, including latest life expectancy data and two independent reports.”