Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Grandparents 'need recognition'

Grandmother with boy
Grandparents 'are playing an ever-increasing role in childcare'

Policymakers should catch up with the reality of family life in Wales and reward the "unrecognised" role of grandparents, a children's group says.

Children in Wales also called for the older generation to have a say in the design of services for children.

Catriona Williams, chief executive, spoke out after a poll suggested that the older generation is making an increased contribution to childcare.

Ms Williams said there were "no financial benefits" for those who help.

The charity Grandparents Plus has claimed strong support for the role grandparents play in childcare on the basis of a UK-wide YouGov survey of 2,000 people.

The charity's poll suggested that in the current economic crisis many parents will be turning back to their parents for childcare and financial support.

Grandparents have increasingly contributed to the upbringing of their grandchildren and yet as far as public policies are concerned they are apparently invisible
Catriona Williams, Children in Wales

Some 61% of people asked thought grandparents should be rewarded by the state for their help.

In a report based on the findings, Grandparents Plus argues that grandparents should get tax credits and two weeks 'granny leave' to look after newborn grandchildren.

The report, 'Rethinking Family Life: exploring the role of grandparents and the wider family', also suggests that parents should be able to claim childcare tax credit for grandparental childcare if it enables parents to return to work.

According to the survey, working grandparents providing childcare should also be entitled to a credit towards their National Insurance in the same way that parents, foster carers and carers of disabled adults will be from April 2010.

And grandparents should also be entitled to special family leave of 'granny leave' of up to two weeks to be taken at any point in the child's first year, the charity argues. Employers with flexible working practices should also consider extending the right to grandparents.

'Filling the gaps'

Responding to the report, Ms Williams said: "Since the late 1990s, grandparents have increasingly contributed to the upbringing of their grandchildren and yet as far as public policies are concerned they are apparently invisible.

"The expense of childcare, especially for more than one child, had resulted in grandparents filling many of the gaps in order to support their children financially."

Ms Williams said the recession was clearly a time when families were increasingly in need of extra support.

She added: "Grandparents have in particular stepped in when there are crises such as family problems, unemployment, etc.

"As it stands now there are no financial benefits and frequently grandparents have cut down (or even given up completely) their own work or activities in order to care for their grandchildren on a regular basis.

44% said they were likely to seek more grandparental help with childcare
30% said they were likely to seek financial help
61% agreed that grandparents should be rewarded by the state for providing childcare
75% agreed that working age grandparents who provide substantial periods of childcare should receive a credit towards their basic state pension
55% agreed that grandparents should have the right to request flexible working
Source: Rethinking Family Life

"Matters such as grandparental leave from work to offer support around the time of the birth of a new grandchild have never been forthcoming nor have flexible working practices.

"There are also no real opportunities for grandparents to have their views included in the overall design of services for children in Wales and as a result they don't have the same supports available to parents."

Ruth Marks, the Older People's Commissioner for Wales said grandparents' contribution to society was "not acknowledged or recognised".

She commented: "Grandparents often play a key role in childcare and it is very important to recognise that but they also play many other roles.

"Many older people are not only providing childcare but they are also providing care for other elderly relatives.

"Flexible working for working parents will have an impact on the role grandparents play but affordable and accessible childcare is also key."

'Taking the hit'

Commenting on the research, Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus said it was time to recognise the contribution grandparents make.

"We believe that the existing policy focus on the nuclear family means we miss what is really going on," she said. "In the tough economic climate it is families who are taking the hit.

"Grandparents are playing an ever-increasing role in supporting family life and caring for children but their contribution often goes unrecognised.

"Our poll shows that the general public appreciates the important role that grandparents play but most people do not think the government values this highly enough. It is time to recognise the contribution grandparents make."

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