By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer, Working Families.
On Monday, it was reported that, in a bid to tackle “the childcare crisis”, the minister for education and childcare, Liz Truss, is “writing to every council in England to suggest that school nurseries extend their opening hours to allow parents to leave toddlers during the working day”. According to the Daily Telegraph, ministers “believe that opening up the system will help provide tens of thousands more childcare places, which are urgently needed in many areas [and] will also enable mothers to go back into part-time work”.
Whilst almost any governmental initiative to tackle the dire shortage of affordable childcare is to be welcomed, one immediate response to Monday’s reports was: what part-time work? Because, as Laura Dewar of Single Parent Action Network (and a Working Families trustee) was quick to point out, single parents and others – such as parents of disabled children – who need to work part-time rather than full-time, often find there are relatively few part-time jobs on offer. Which might seem counter-intuitive, given that there are now more part-time jobs in the UK economy than ever before.
As Duncan Weldon of the TUC demonstrated with five simple charts in an admirably clear blog post late last month, a sharp increase in the number and proportion of people working part-time is just one of several so-called compositional changes in the labour market over the past six years. Since January 2008 the number of people working full-time has risen by 63,000, whilst the number working part-time has grown by 588,000.
However, this does not mean that more workers are working part-time out of choice or, due to their caring responsibilities, out of necessity. Nor does it mean that there are more vacant part-time jobs on offer. As the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, noted in a House of Commons debate on ‘job insecurity’ earlier this week, the number of people working part-time who actually want to work full-time “has grown by over 350,000” since 2010. Furthermore, most of the increase in part-time employment has been amongst men – the number of women working part-time has remained remarkably steady since 2008, and even fell slightly in 2013.
Laura Dewar points to some startling figures on the DWP’s Universal Jobsmatch website, which suggest a lack of quality, part-time vacancies, especially at the intermediate level. Of the 3,385 nursing jobs in London advertised on Universal Jobsmatch this week, only 154 (4.5 per cent) are listed as part-time. Similarly, of the 3,142 teaching jobs in London, only 128 (four per cent) are listed as part-time. And the situation is little different in other sectors and regions: of the 3,824 creative/design jobs advertised nationally this week, only 183 are listed as part-time; and of the 4,678 IT/software development vacancies in Manchester and the North West, a mere 20 are listed as part-time.
Whilst such figures might not be wholly reliable (i.e. some part-time jobs might not be advertised as such), they do illustrate the very real difficulty that many single parents – nine out of ten of whom are women – and others with exceptionally demanding care responsibilities face in trying to find suitable part-time work. And that includes, as Laura notes, those non-working single parents “who are on job-seeking benefits and are obliged to take work as quickly as possible”.
So, what is to be done? Is it really beyond the ken of government to bring about more flexible job advertising, especially in the public sector, to give not just single parents but also older women, parents of disabled children and others who need to work part-time access to a wider range of quality jobs?
Working Families has previously suggested there is a role for Jobcentre Plus to bring about a step-change in employer attitudes to the advertising and filling of vacancies, so as to widen the pool of talent from which they recruit and help people move into more financially sustainable work. To that end, we are pleased to be working with DWP on piloting an advertising strapline – “Happy to Talk Flexible Working” – that will enable employers to be upfront about their flexible vacancies in job adverts.
Looking further ahead, we’d like to see a presumption, in the public sector at least, that all vacancies are advertised as being available on a part-time, job-share or flexible basis. With all the main parties committed to moving more single parents, disabled people and others off benefits and into work, that would seem to be the very least that a future government could do in return.