The days when people’s late 40s and early 50s were their comfortable times to look forward to (children grown up; money in the bank) seem to be eroding. With first-time parents getting older (the average age for starting a family is now nearly 30, the highest age since 1938), and the parents of these parents living longer, there is now a growing “sandwich generation” that simultaneously support elderly parents and dependent children.
Life in the middle can be expensive and exhausting. Research by Helping Hands (UK), a company that provides live-in care for elderly people, found that of the 3,000 sandwich generation adults they recently questioned, 65% were struggling to balance the care needs of both the oldest and the youngest generations. Some 35% admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the pressures they faced, and 20% said their own health was suffering.
“While the needs of your children are more clearly defined, elderly care always crops up as an emergency situation and is rarely planned for,” says Tim Lee, CEO of Helping Hands. “Some come to us completely frazzled by the experience of a cherished parent suddenly suffering a stroke, or being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We see particular problems when individuals still have children at home. Their time and energy is squeezed to the limit.”
“The best employers will think about offering sandwich-generation employees flexible working options, perhaps allowing people to go part-time until care issues are resolved,” says Sarah Jackson, CEO of charity Working Families. “Income protection could be an added safety net, but I would want to see this tied into some sensible policies that ensure dedicated employees can meet family responsibilities, while retaining their jobs.”
Almost one million people in the UK are financially supporting elderly loved ones, costing each of them on average £244 a month. About 3.3 million are financially supporting adult children (aged 21 and over) spending on average £254 a month. In total, 250,000 British adults are spending £1.5bn a year supporting both children and older relatives.
Source: Unbiased.co.uk survey, carried out by Opinium, 2008
 Alison Clements guardian.co.uk, Saturday 18 June