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Editor's Agenda

Nanna and Pop’s unpaid labour keeping the economy ticking

/ Oct 22, 2012 9:24AM / Print / ()

Nanna and Pop’s unpaid labour keeping the economy ticking

Across Australia today thousands of grandparents have been put to work. But they won't earn a cent for their efforts.

They're looking after their grandkids while their own kids are at the office. They're helping the next generation of Mums and Dads to pay the bills, contribute to the mortgage and continue with their careers. According to the Council on the Ageing, around 10 to 20% of over 65-year-olds are putting in unpaid childcare hours, amounting to a massive $90 million a year in NSW alone.

Those providing childcare typically contribute around 12 hours a week but for some, it's a part-time or even full-time job.

Plenty of these Nans and Pas enjoy the hours they put in (most of the time) but that doesn't change the fact its work, and it's work that's contributing to our economy by allowing parents to get to their own, paid, places of work.

The shortfalls in structured childcare become clear when so many parents are turning to their own parents for assistance -- whether it's the prohibiting costs, location, opening hours or sourcing a reasonable childcare placement that are standing in the way.

I asked one Nanna recently what she makes of driving across Sydney to look after her son's three year-old daughter, two days a week.

"I love it," she says. "My son never asked for it, I offered. The cost of childcare is so high that it doesn't make sense. My son has a mortgage to pay, he and his wife need to be in the workforce."

Then she added: "But I do wonder when it'll end."

Nanna is 66 years old. This is her first grandkid, and she's expecting her son to have more -- not to mention her other daughter who just got married.

Right now, we're lucky we have a steady stream of babyboomers reaching retirement age, grandparents who may have recently left the workforce themselves who are willing and able to put in the hours.

But this can't last forever, and capable and willing grandparents are hardly a sustainable solution for the long term. Grandparents themselves may want to progress their careers, or at least work on their own projects in retirement that they couldn't get done while in the workforce.

Grandparents need balance too.

And for plenty of women, turning to parents for childcare is not a solution at all: death, bad health, fractured relationships and distance will often stand in the way.

Then there's the sheer number of grandkids in the one family. If you're the last to have children in your family, you may find your older siblings have already drained the energy and hours available from your own parents.

We may be seeing another divide emerging: those who have access to free childcare by way of their parents, and those who don't. Those who can get to work to progress their careers because their parents are available to step in, and those who have to halt the breaks on it because childcare's simply unrealistic. 

It's yet another divide associated with something so many women are crying out for: affordable and flexible childcare.

Regardless of all this, how about we share a bit of gratitude with this segment of the population that's working wonders on keeping more women in the workforce?

I believe we need a National Thank The Grandparents Day (in addition, of course, to National Grandparents Day.) 

Who's with me? How have your parents helped? Could you have done it without them?




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