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Older women’s health ignored at work

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A new report launched by TUC and Pennell Initiative for Women’s Health on International Women’s Day suggests that the health and safety of twelve million women is being ignored. “The Health and Work of Older Women: a neglected issue” says that older women work longer hours than younger women, have lower status jobs and have a higher chance of developing bad backs and broken bones.

The report calls for action on all sides, suggesting that
– employers ask older women workers about the risks they face so that they can be controlled better
– unions encourage older women workers to become safety reps and speak out about the health problems they have.
– the Government promote to employers the economic contribution that older women workers make
– researchers should look at the differences between older women workers and other groups rather than pretend those differences don’t exist.

The author of the report, Professor Lesley Doyal, Professor of Health and Social Care at the University of Bristol, said: “Twelve million women in the UK are aged 45 and over. Many of these women will spend longer in paid employment, as they are likely to live longer than ever before. They will make a significant contribution to the economy and public services. Yet there is little interest in the implications of these trends for their health. This paper, written in conjunction with the TUC, is an attempt to fill this gap. It demonstrates the impact of work on the physical, emotional and mental health of this neglected group of workers and makes recommendations for ensuring that their well being is actively promoted.”

TUC General Secretary John Monks said: “This report issues a challenge to all of us, to make sure that work is healthy and safe for a growing and vital part of the labour force. Older women deserve to have their concerns taken seriously, and I pledge the TUC to ensure that they aren’t ignored and invisible any more. Work needs to be adapted to their needs – we can ill afford to squander women’s health and employers can’t afford to lose out on skilled, experienced and committed staff.”

Report findings
– There have been few attempts to examine the work of older women and health related problems. A recent TUC survey (1998) of health and safety representatives revealed the extent of this gender bias. 85% of those questioned said they had never before been asked for specific information about the health of women.
– The last two decades have seen a rapid increase in the number of women entering paid work. In the developed countries this increase has been accompanied by a ‘greying’ of the work force. However, the significance of this for older women and health has received little attention.
– As women grow older, many women move from part time to full time work. In 1998 about 50% aged 45-64 worked full time, compared to only 40% of women aged 16-44. Older women also have less opportunity to benefit from the equal employment strategies of recent years. They are more likely to occupy jobs with low status and limited rewards.

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