Have Britain's middle-aged women been turned into "an army of unpaid carers who suffer losses in income, job prospects and health?"
A new report on fairness in modern Britain by the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows large gains — and large problems. Sums up the AFP, "It revealed that gender and ethnic pay gaps remain high, rich people still live longer than those on low incomes, and child mortality is far higher in some minority communities." In addition, the report revealed that those with disabilities are still at a severe disadvantage in the job market and that five times more black people are in jail than white.
Said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission,
We are a people who have moved light years in our attitudes to all kinds of human difference, but... we are still a country where our achievements haven't yet caught up with our aspirations.For some, the gateways to opportunity appear permanently closed, no matter how hard they try; whilst others seem to have been issued with an "access all areas" pass at birth.
While most of these stats might serve as grim confirmation of what we already knew, others were indeed revelatory: especially those concerning the "plight of middle-aged women" (the Daily Mail's words, you won't be shocked to learn.) The "coping classes," as they're known, are now increasingly tasked with caring, in quick succession or even simultaneously, for two separate generations. Not only does this economically and professionally disadvantage the "sandwich generation" carers — usually women — but, warns the report, the dynamic can be problematic. Says Phillips,
Unless we adjust to increased longevity and the stresses of modern life we risk turning what could be one of the foundation stones of the Big Society into a burden. One in four women and one in five men in their fifties is a carer. These are some of the most hard-pressed folk in our society – and they deserve a break. This is not a problem for particular families or for government - it's one for all of us.
But aren't we always being told about the importance of family, the added help grandparents can contribute? Surely it's not all bad. And, the Commission asserts, it's not: on balance, the carers describe the work as "rewarding." But the toll on career and even health is clear, and since it's an issue that will only become more pressing in the next decade, it's one that, in Phillips' opinion, needs to be addressed. He terms the results "a wake-up call"...what that translates to is less clear.
The Way To A Fairer Britain [Guardian]