One small step for parents of disabled children, one giant leap for childcare policy?

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

In January, a Working Families research report – Off Balance – highlighted the enormous challenge that many parents of disabled children face in trying to balance their especially demanding care responsibilities with paid work, not least due to the often very high cost (and inadequate supply) of suitable childcare. And last month, with a rare lack of ministerial fanfare, the government quietly revealed a small but potentially significant boost for such parents, in terms of financial support for childcare costs.

In its response to a technical consultation on draft secondary legislation establishing the Treasury’s tax-free childcare scheme, due to come into force later this year, under which the government will top-up by 20 pence every 80 pence paid into a ‘childcare account’ by eligible parents, up to a maximum of £2,000, HM Revenue & Customs stated:

“Representations were made during consultation that additional support should be provided for disabled children in view of the generally higher childcare costs their parents can face. Similar comments were also made during the Bill’s Commons Committee stage, when the [Minister] made a commitment to consider this matter further.

Having considered this, the Government has decided to introduce legislation to increase the maximum amount that parents of disabled children can pay into their childcare accounts, in recognition of the higher childcare costs these families incur. For accounts for disabled children, the maximum payment for a standard three month entitlement period will be doubled [from £2,000] to £4,000. This means that a parent with a disabled child will be able to pay up to £16,000 into their childcare account per year and receive top-up payments of up to £4,000.”

It’s fair to say that the proposed tax-free childcare scheme is not universally loved by childcare campaigners, and leading critics were quick to note that only those parents of disabled children that can afford to pay more than the previous upper limit of £8,000 per year into a tax-free childcare account would actually receive any extra financial support from government as a result of the move. Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said:

“The tax-free childcare scheme is already regressive in nature, as the more a family can afford to pay into their childcare account, the more financial support they receive from government. It would have been far more practical for the government to increase the rate of top-up for parents of disabled children above the current rate of 20 per cent. That would have ensured that all eligible families benefit from additional support, not just those that can afford to spend large amounts on childcare.”

Working Families agrees, and in any case it’s far from clear whether implementation of the tax-free childcare scheme would survive a change of government in May, as both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have set out quite specific plans for significant childcare reform that make no mention of the scheme.

However, the move is potentially of wider significance, in that it is the first time any government has explicitly recognised and made provision for, in legislation, the higher childcare costs faced by parents of disabled children. (That is, other than the disability element of child tax credit, and the disabled child addition in Universal Credit, though neither are aimed specifically at higher childcare costs). Prior to this (low-key) announcement, campaign groups such as Contact a Family, the Family & Childcare Trust, Every Disabled Child Matters, and Working Families had struggled to get government officials even to discuss the issue. But last year’s Parliamentary Inquiry into Childcare for Disabled Children, which was supported by all four groups, may well have been the catalyst for the evident policy breakthrough.

The challenge now is to build on this welcome recognition of the issue by current Treasury ministers, and work towards the inclusion of specific policy commitments in the policy plans of all political parties. In the words of Amanda Batten, chief executive of Contact a Family, “ahead of the general election, all political  parties must commit to tackling the lack of affordable, quality childcare for disabled children once and for all”.

Labour’s shadow childcare minister, Alison McGovern, has expressed concern about the especially harsh childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children in a number of recent speeches, as did her predecessor Lucy Powell, but that acknowledgement has yet to translate into a specific policy pledge. And the arguably more ambitious childcare proposals of the Liberal Democrats are similarly silent on the issue. It’s time for them to follow the Treasury’s lead.

Paternity leave & shared parenting: Labour boldly opens door marked ‘Do Not Open’

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

There must have been much grinding of teeth among Liberal Democrat ministers and MPs on Monday morning, as Labour leader Ed Miliband garnered acres of advance media coverage for a speech in which, it was reported, he would commit a Labour government to doubling statutory paternity leave, from two to four weeks. For, not only did the Liberal Democrats adopt an arguably more impressive pledge to treble paternity leave to six weeks as long ago as September, but – as far as I can tell – Miliband delivered no such speech on Monday.

There’s certainly no transcript of any speech, nor even a press release. But the media had clearly been given the same song sheet to sing from, with everyone from the BBC to the Daily Mail reporting that Miliband would, later on Monday, say that:

Thanks to the last Labour government, fathers have two weeks’ paid paternity leave. Millions of families have benefited, with parents saying this has helped them support each other, share caring responsibilities and bond with their children. But the money isn’t great, and too many dads don’t take up their rights because they feel they have to go back to work so they can provide for their family.

The move was largely welcomed by media commentators as a positive step in the right direction, with only the Telegraph departing violently from the script to lambast the new pledge as a “spectacularly bad” response to the Coalition’s policy of shared parental leave, which it described as “the most progressive new parent support policy that Britain has ever had.”  And, while the four in 10 new fathers who will not qualify for shared parental leave might well disagree with that assessment, the Telegraph does have a point. For, as a number of more thoughtful (and knowledgeable) analysts have noted since Monday, an extra two weeks of paternity leave does not a revolution in shared parenting make. Labour’s proposed four weeks of paternity leave would still leave the UK lagging some way behind Norway, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Iceland and Luxembourg.

Indeed, to at least one (essentially sympathetic) blogger, the move appeared to be less about progressive policy-making than creating “a headline to help persuade disaffected supporters to vote Labour in May”. And it is certainly true that there was no mention of paternity leave in last summer’s National Policy Forum report, which is supposed to form the basis of Labour’s general election manifesto. Yet the new policy, as now espoused by Miliband, was first proposed by left-leaning think tank IPPR in June last year. Curiouser and curiouser, but polling by YouGov confirms that extending paternity leave is popular with both men and women.

The employer lobby groups were not terribly impressed either, with the never knowingly understated British Chambers of Commerce grumbling that “well-meaning proposals such as this create very real costs for businesses, which can in turn lead to reduced productivity, reduced growth and fewer jobs”. Heavens above! And the Federation of Small Businesses certainly has a point when it says that “altering paternity leave so soon after introducing shared parental leave has the potential to cause confusion amongst businesses that are only getting to grips with the most recent changes [i.e. shared parental leave].”

However, as Working Families chief executive Sarah Jackson noted, “businesses need to go with the grain of modern family life,” and our research confirms there is an appetite among young fathers, in particular, to do their share of childcare. Increasing paternity and parental leave creates an opportunity for businesses to help a core group of employees “give their best at work by recognising that they also want to give their best at home.” British bosses (and their lobby groups) should perhaps heed the words of this Swedish CEO, who fully expects his male employees to “take six months off at some point during their child’s early life”, and is in no doubt that “when our employees – both male and female – take time off to be with their children, it’s good for us in the long-term”.

In any case, the real radicalism in Miliband’s announcement is not the extra two weeks of paternity leave – as welcome as that is – but his pledge that all four weeks would be paid at £260 per week, the equivalent of a 40-hour week on the minimum wage and almost double the current, shockingly low rate of £138.18 per week. Because, if Labour now considers it necessary to pay fathers at least £260 per week to get them to take their full entitlement to paternity leave, as it surely is, then the same undoubtedly applies to shared parental leave. And it is inconceivable that a future government could pay fathers £260 per week when taking shared parental leave unless it paid women at least the same when they take maternity or shared parental leave.

Perhaps unthinkingly, Labour has boldly gone where no mainstream political party has gone before. Without even delivering a speech, Ed Miliband and his advisers have erected a neon-lit question mark over the ludicrously low rate at which statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave are paid.

And there’s now no way to turn off the power.

 

 

An afternoon in Westminster: the Working Families policy conference

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

Last Tuesday, some 120 policy wonks, campaigners and academics  gathered in Portcullis House, Westminster for the second Working Families annual policy conference, kindly hosted by former cabinet minister Maria Miller MP. With the presentation of two new Working Families reports, keynote speeches by MPs from each of the three main parties, and panel discussions on ‘The 21st Century Working Family’ and ‘Tackling In-Work Poverty’, there was a crowded agenda. And it being exactly 100 days to go to the General Election on 7 May seemed to add a certain spice to the debate.

Not surprisingly, there was much talk of manifestos, and some very welcome indication from the three MPs – Maria Miller for the Conservatives, shadow childcare minister Alison McGovern for Labour, and BIS minister Jo Swinson for the Liberal Democrats – of cross-party support for key policy asks in the Families & Work Manifesto for May 2015, developed by Working Families, Family & Childcare Trust, Fatherhood Institute, Fawcett Society, Gingerbread, Grandparents Plus, Maternity Action, NCT, Parents Across Scotland, Single Parents Action Network, TUC, Women’s Budget Group and others.

Noting the “record numbers of women in work” and that “the sandwich-generation faces the dual challenge of childcare and eldercare”, Maria Miller said “we have to ensure that a model of work designed by men for men is not just given a lick of paint. We have to make flexible working the norm.” Mrs Miller suggested that the Families & Work Manifesto call for adoption of a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector is “something that should be taken up by all three main parties.”

On childcare, Mrs Miller noted that, while overall supply has greatly increased over the past two decades, “affordability and flexibility are the challenges we’ve yet to meet.” And, as demonstrated in the new Working Families report Off Balance, launched at the conference, this is especially true for the working parents of disabled children and young people, for whom childcare is not just an ‘under fives’ issue.

Picking up on one of the key findings from the new Modern Families Index, also launched at the conference, that “there is an appetite among working parents” for the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) that comes fully into force in April, employment relations and equalities minister Jo Swinson noted that “the cost of childcare can be a major barrier to new mothers returning to work after maternity leave” but “childcare is not just an issue for women.” Ms Swinson believes the availability of SPL will “prompt a conversation” between parents on how to share their new caring responsibilities.

Endorsing Maria Miller’s call for private sector employers to adopt the Happy to Talk Flexible Working strap line developed by Working Families,  Ms Swinson argued that male business leaders should “use their visibility to set a good example” on flexible working and shared parenting. The Families & Work Manifesto calls for ministers to act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and encourage use of the strapline.

Following a theme that was later to be raised again and again in the two panel discussions, Alison McGovern argued that policy-formulation on childcare and flexible working must recognise, and reflect, the reality of life for millions of low-paid working parents. For all to many low-paid working mothers in particular, flexible working now means only a zero-hours contract, with no security of job or income. And, with wild fluctuations in weekly income, finding and holding on to affordable childcare becomes a near impossibility. All too often, “families have no choice at all.”

Ms McGovern also flagged up a need to focus on the necessarily long-term goal of a seamless framework of parental leave rights and State-funded childcare. As Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus was later to highlight, some 50 per cent of working families rely on grandparents to fill the current ‘childcare gap’ between the end of statutory maternity leave (at 12 months) and the start of free entitlement to childcare (at three years).

In the two panel debates that followed an all-too-brief break for coffee, the delegates and panel members – Alison Garnham of CPAG, Fiona Weir of Gingerbread, Sam Royston of The Children’s Society, Ellen Broome of Family & Childcare Trust, William McDonald of the Fatherhood Institute, and Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus – confirmed by their contributions that, despite welcome progress in the law, public policy, and practice of many employers on flexible working and shared parenting, there remains, in Maria Miller’s words, “far more to do”. Falling real wages, growing casualisation of the labour market, spiralling childcare costs, and swingeing cuts to maternity benefits in recent years have made being a working parent more challenging than ever for all too many.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn what ideas politicians such as Alison McGovern, Maria Miller and Jo Swinson and their parties have for the next government to make work work that little bit better for parents, carers and their families.

You can now follow this blog on the new Working Families website blog pages

Off balance: parents of disabled children and paid work

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

Since 2012, the issue of affordable childcare has risen rapidly up the political agenda, and seems set to be a key battleground in the run-up to the General Election on 7 May. All three main UK parties will include a ‘childcare offer’ in their manifesto, and all three routinely stress the importance of paid work – including higher maternal employment – to tackling poverty and other social ills, such as mental ill-health. In short, there is broad political consensus that all parents who wish to work should be able to do so.

However, if achieving any kind of work-life balance is a serious challenge for many  parents – and recent research by the Family & Childcare Trust and a survey of parents by 4Children confirm that it most certainly is – then it’s a challenge that parents of children with a disability or special needs face in spades.

I would love to have paid work, to allow us to do more to help our son and for ourselves as a family, but the flexibility required just isn’t available. That is why I had to give up my job. Mother of disabled three year-old.

The need for my wife and I to split all our available leave to cover our caring responsibilities means that we rarely have any time-off together. Employed father of disabled 15 year-old.

Becoming the parent of a disabled child is rarely a matter of personal choice – it can happen to anyone, at any time, not just at the time of birth. One day you have a healthy toddler – and the next day he is struck down and left disabled by one of childhood’s rare but vicious illnesses, such as meningitis. Or one day your teenager is knocked off her bike by a truck, and never walks again.

Such unexpected events happen, every day of every week – and their shock can hit families with tremendous force. Knocked off balance and forced to learn a whole new language of medication, treatment and care, it can take time for families to make the adjustments that, in the long-run, will enable them to weather the storm that has broken over their heads.

Off balance, a new Working Families report based on our survey of over 900 parents of disabled children, illustrates both the extent to which such parents value the opportunity to work – for economic, social and other reasons – and the enormous challenge they face in combining their especially demanding caring responsibilities with paid work.

I would love to get back into paid work. I get depression from being stuck at home. Mother of disabled seven year-old.

The great majority of those parents currently not in paid work gave up work specifically to care for their disabled child, but nine out of ten would now like to return to paid work at some level. However, four out of ten have been out of work for at least six years, making it much harder for them to re-enter the labour market. And all but a small minority say that their caring responsibilities would limit them to part-time or (highly) flexible work. Yet there is an acute shortage of quality, part-time or otherwise flexible vacancies.

Of those in work, two-thirds have refrained from seeking promotion, declined promotion, or accepted demotion in order to be able to balance work and their caring responsibilities.

Combining work and caring is very challenging. There is never any flexibility around the timing of my son’s hospital and other appointments. I just need to drop everything and be there. Employed mother of disabled two year-old.

Seven out of ten parents describe finding suitable, affordable childcare as ‘very difficult’ or ‘impossible’, with as many as one in two relying heavily or exclusively on ‘free’ childcare provided by family or friends. There is clearly a significant lack of specialist childcare capable of meeting the sometimes complex needs of disabled children, and even where it is available it is often significantly more expensive than that for non-disabled children. Almost one in three of in-work parents who pay for their childcare are paying more than £10 per hour – more than twice the national average hourly cost.

Only one local provider offers childcare suitable for my son, but at £16 per hour this is far too expensive. Out of work mother of disabled one year-old.

However, to date, none of the three UK main political parties has explicitly acknowledged this especially harsh ‘childcare crunch’ and other major barriers to paid work faced by parents of disabled children – let alone developed specific policies aimed at lowering these barriers within their policy programme. This has to change.

Off balance calls on all political parties to commit to:

  • Creating a statutory right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather relatively short-term life crises such as the onset of disability of a partner, parent or child, or other major change in their caring responsibilities, without having to give up work. Cost analysis carried out for Working Families by management consultants Oliver Wyman indicates that a legal right to a six-week period of adjustment leave for parents of disabled children could generate a net gain to the economy of £500 million per year.
  • Adopting a flexible by default approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector, so that all jobs in central and local government are advertised on a flexible basis unless there is a specific, good business reason not to. Ministers should also act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and should encourage private sector employers to adopt the Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline.
  • Appointing a junior minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the national supply of suitable, good quality, and affordable childcare for children with a disability or special needs.

 

 

Business, flexible working & employee diversity

In this guest post, Andy Bagnall of the CBI argues that businesses need to do more to encourage flexible working and promote employee diversity.

Back in 2013, a survey of CBI members found that almost nine in ten UK companies offer some form of flexible working – a figure worth celebrating since flexible working brings the labour market into reach for a greater, and more diverse, group of people.

But in a YouGov poll commissioned in November this year, we found that employees are still finding it difficult to balance work and family life. We found that 43 per cent of employees would feel uncomfortable asking their employer about working more flexibly, against 40 per cent saying they would feel comfortable. The figures were almost identical for men and women.

Asked how they find balancing work and family life, 61 per cent said easy and 38 per cent said difficult. Again, there was no significant difference between the responses from men and women.

There are both positives and negatives that can be taken from such figures, but there are clearly steps that both businesses and government can take to make further improvements in promoting flexible working and meaningful diversity policies.

The CBI’s recently released A Better Off Britain report calls upon UK businesses to:

  • Adopt a presumption in favour of flexibility, from the job advert stage onwards
  • Commit to meaningful diversity policies and, where possible, to publish aspirational diversity targets
  • Show greater openness to job-sharing in more senior roles and ensuring recruitment processes maximise the diversity of shortlists

There is a clear call here for businesses to step up and implement these solid, actionable steps. But whilst businesses can do more, the government also has a role and one thing that it can do is help reduce the burden of childcare costs.

The infographic below shows that childcare is an increasing drag on families’ incomes. Middle income families now spend 34 per cent of their net income on childcare, and over 50 per cent of parents with a child under two would like to get a job or work more hours but the cost of childcare is a barrier.

BoB_Immediate

The CBI is therefore calling on the Government to provide more help with childcare costs as soon as public finances allow, including extending the current 15 hours of free childcare for three and four year olds to children aged one and two, and extending maternity pay from 39 weeks to 52 weeks to close the gap between maternity leave and when free childcare becomes available.

Increasing the availability and acceptance of flexible working brings direct benefits to businesses since they can gain from the greater diversity of perspectives of their employees. But it is also good for both society and for how businesses are perceived in the communities in which they work.

Andy Bagnall is Director of Campaigns & Governance at the CBI, which is looking to encourage discussion about issues like this affecting business reputation through The Great Business Debate. With this campaign the CBI is bringing together voices from business, a diverse range of interest groups, and the wider public in various online and offline forums to have their say. If you’d like to hear more and state your own views, check out the campaign website and leave your thoughts, sign up to the campaign newsletter, and follow the campaign on twitter.

 

Carers: the Balancing Act

Guest blogger Gemma Reucroft warns of an imminent “caring explosion” in the UK labour market.

There are currently over six million carers in the UK, a figure that is expected to increase to nine million by 2037. Every single day 6,000 people take on a new caring responsibility. At some point in our lives, three in five of us will be a carer. Then there’s the relatively recent phenomenon of the so-called sandwich generation: people caring for elderly parents whilst still having children living at home.

We have an ageing population. More than 15 million people in the UK currently have a long-term health condition. Conditions such as diabetes, dementia, chronic heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are rising, fast.

Within just five years we will reach a critical point: there will be more people needing care than people available to meet the demand.

Caring for someone else is a constant balancing act, especially for those who are also in work. This has been one of those issues that is both known but unknown. Well understood in some areas and within some organisations, but not yet truly in the consciousness to the extent that it needs to be. Because this is going to have a significant impact on the workplace. A caring explosion is coming.

Awareness is starting to increase. The recent annual CIPD survey into absence at work showed that more than a third of employers believe that caring responsibilities have had an impact on their absence levels. The benefits industry is also waking up. Eldercare is now predicted to be the next big flex benefit offering.

Research by Carers UK highlights the extent of the problem. Thirty-four per cent of carers feel that they have missed out on promotion or development opportunities at work. Forty-two per cent  have taken a reduced income in order to provide that care, and it’s estimated that around two million carers have left the labour market altogether.

For those carers that do stay in work, they have a serious risk of developing mental health conditions themselves. Ninety-two per cent of carers describe themselves as feeling stressed as a result of their caring role. It’s not unusual for carers to neglect their own health when they are prioritising the care of someone else. There is also the potentially significant financial impact that can arise as a result of caring. Employers need to take action to prepare their organisations to meet this challenge.

Whether or not they have identified themselves to their employer as such (and often people don’t classify themselves as a carer), in every organisation there will be employees who have some sort of caring responsibility outside of their day job. And there is no question that these numbers will increase in the years to come.

We can’t afford to let the skills held by carers  disappear out of the labour market. The age profile of carers suggests that they will be at the peak of their careers when they take on these responsibilities but they are likely to need support from their employer in order to continue to balance caring and work.

Many carers are ‘hidden’, as they often feel unable to confide in their employers. However, for some carers, support from an employer may be the only support they get.

Under UK law, carers can make an application to their employer for flexible working after a qualifying period. They have few other formal protections or support mechanisms. Whilst there is also a legal right to take emergency time off for dependants, this right extends for just a day or two to make alternative care arrangements, and the time off is unpaid.   Simply applying the basic statutory position will not be enough if you want to genuinely retain and support carers in your organisation. The qualifying period for requesting flexible working can be a particular barrier to those seeking to re-enter the labour market.

When it comes to supporting carers at work, one of the most impact factors that allows them to juggle work and care, is flexibility. This doesn’t necessarily mean formal flexible working arrangements. Many health conditions are unpredictable and can change quickly. Carers may have to attend hospital appointments, take phone calls during the working day, take leave at short notice.  It’s not about someone going part-time or changing hours on a permanent basis it may be that some informal everyday flexibility will suffice, as the caring demands flex too.

The other crucial factor is support. A supportive employer, and a supportive line manager in particular, can make all the difference, and small changes are often all that are required.

Here is where HR departments come in. Education is needed, and so is effective communication. Carers need to know that it is okay to be open about their caring responsibilities, and understand their right to request flexible working. Line managers need to be educated in the important role they play in supporting the carer in balancing their sometimes competing priorities. There is no one solution that meets the needs of all carers. The support an employer can provide must be tailored to the individual situation.

There will be no organisation immune from the caring effect. So it is time to get prepared for what is to come.

Gemma Reucroft is UK HR Director at Tunstall Healthcare (UK) Ltd., and a prolific blogger on HR and employment law & policy issues. Follow Gemma on Twitter: @HR_Gem

Civil Service sets benchmark for Shared Parental Leave

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

With opinion on the likely impact of the new right to shared parental leave (SPL) sharply divided between those who anticipate a game-changer (of whom Working Families are at the forefront) and those who expect yet another damp squib, last week Nick Clegg gave the optimists reason to be cheerful with a heavily-trailed speech in which he ‘announced’ that all civil service employees will be offered equal enhanced SPL pay.

Speaking to an audience of public sector workers – including teachers, social workers, local government and NHS staff – the Deputy Prime Minister stated that, from April 2015:

The civil service will be offering equal parental pay and support to all its employees – male and female. As a result, it will no longer just be new mums working in the civil service who can take maternity leave at full pay. Dads will also be able to benefit from enhanced pay for shared parental leave, if both parents choose to carve up their time between them. This means more fathers will be able to afford to take time off to spend caring for their new born children.

In fact, Clegg was recycling old news, the move having first been announced in early September by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, when launching the Talent Action Plan, a central plank of the Government’s ongoing civil service reform programme. Maude stated then:

The civil service’s adoption of the new entitlement to shared parental leave will go far beyond statutory requirements. For the first time, civil servants across government, at all levels, will have the option to split the six months’ full pay usually offered to women for maternity leave. The move [will give] parents flexibility around how they share childcare responsibilities and ensure both parents can retain strong links with the labour market.

Old news or new news, the move is definitely good news. It sets a benchmark for the support of new parents that many private sector employers – both large and small – will need to follow if SPL is to usher in a new era of more equally shared parenting.

The omens are not great. One recent survey of human resources professionals indicated that only 48% of employers offer enhanced maternity pay for up to six months, and that a mere 8% offer enhanced pay to fathers using the existing right to additional paternity leave (APL). And, of course, by excluding the great majority of SMEs and micro-employers without any in-house human resources specialist, such surveys tend to paint a somewhat rose-tinted picture of the wider labour market reality. Research commissioned by the DWP and BIS, published in 2011, indicates that only one in three of all women taking maternity leave from work receive any enhanced maternity pay from their employer.

Then again, another recent survey by Personnel Today and ExpertHR indicated that “most employers that offer enhanced maternity pay will also offer enhanced shared parental leave pay”.  The survey found that 56% of those currently offering enhanced maternity pay would also offer enhanced SPL pay to fathers. Reacting to that survey, Working Families chief executive Sarah Jackson noted that “shared parental leave will only be a success if fathers are not significantly financially worse off when taking it, and when their employers are wholly supportive of them doing so.”

Ed Bowyer, employment partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, added: “Businesses may be waiting to get a sense of what their competitors are likely to do, but they will need to decide their own policy sooner rather than later.” However, it was “encouraging” that most employers who enhance maternity pay and have already decided their policy are also intending to enhance shared parental leave pay: “This is likely to mean that take-up of SPL will be greater than has been the case for additional paternity leave, where paid leave has very much been the exception rather than the rule.”

It certainly won’t be difficult for take-up of SPL to be greater than that of APL, which has been negligible. As the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) noted in its November 2012 impact assessment of the then proposed system of SPL:

The current system of maternity, paternity and parental leave cannot be described as flexible and does little to encourage shared parenting in the first year of a child’s life. It also perpetuates a gender imbalance in terms of attachment to, and position in, the labour market; reinforcing the culture that women do the majority of caring and are more likely to be absent from the labour force as a result of having children. In so doing, the current system contributes to unequal labour market outcomes for men and women in the longer term.

So, we all have to hope that the Civil Service’s welcome approach on SPL gives the new system a much-needed boost off the launch pad. Time will tell, but in the meantime much credit is due to Nick Clegg, Nicky Morgan, Jo Swinson and others within government who have driven the move towards equality for Civil Service parents, and so provided a benchmark for employers to emulate or – heaven’s above – improve upon.

 

 

Manifesto 2015: how does Labour measure up?

In the second of our series of Workflex posts assessing the likely manifesto pledges of the main political parties, Richard Dunstan looks at how Labour Party policy measures up against our own ‘Families & Work’ manifesto for May 2015.

On the eve of its conference in Manchester, Labour released the annual report of its National Policy Forum (NPF), which oversees the development of party policy. At 218 pages, the report is almost three times as long as the Liberal Democrats’ pre-manifesto. And, with most of those pages consisting entirely of densely typed text, it’s a tome that is unlikely to be read cover-to-cover by anyone other than hard-core party members. But having been agreed by delegates in Manchester, the document now forms Labour’s “official policy programme”. So how does this programme measure up?

Time and equality

While there is disappointingly little mention of fathers – and certainly nothing to match the Liberal Democrats’ headline promise of six weeks’ statutory paternity leave – the NPF report rightly notes that the right to request flexible working has been weakened by abolition of the statutory procedure.” It pledges “Labour will support flexible working for parents, and will consider how best to support grandparents who need to fit the care of their grandchildren around their working hours.”

Labour will also “examine ways to improve support for those who are bereaved, including how flexible working rules can be used to support them.” However, the report is silent on whether Labour will continue with, tweak, or ditch the right to shared parental leave (SPL), which will have come into force just one month before the next government takes office. In our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, we call for reform of SPL so as to simplify the legal framework, open eligibility to all fathers from Day One of their employment, and enable SPL to be taken on a part-time basis.

There is welcome recognition of the proliferation of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in UK workplaces in recent years, and a pledge to “close legal loopholes which allow pregnancy discrimination.”  More broadly, there is a “commitment to ensuring that all workers are properly protected in the workplace” and to “acting to end unfair practices and abuses in the labour market.” However, the NPF report does not explain how “increased protection for agency workers” will be enforced by an employment agencies inspectorate that, since 2010, has been reduced to a rump of just three staff.

But it is one of the few more specific policy pledges that is also the most significant. Noting that the hefty, upfront employment tribunal fees introduced in July 2013 have “resulted in prohibitive costs locking people out of justice they are entitled to”, the NPF report commits Labour to abolishing the fees regime and replacing it with “a system where affordability will not be a barrier to justice”. This would be a very welcome move, as restoring access to the tribunal system is essential to tackling pregnancy and other discrimination in the workplace, and to underpinning the newly-extended right to request flexible working.

Money

One of the few policy announcements in Manchester to grab headlines was leader Ed Miliband’s pledge to raise the National Minimum Wage (NMW) rate to £8.00 per hour “by 2020”, which in practice means from 1 October 2019. This put flesh on the bone of the NPF report’s commitment to giving the Low Pay Commission a “new framework” with a “strengthened role in tackling in-work poverty,” and a “five year target” for increasing the NMW rate “so that it gets closer to average earnings.” The proposed hourly rate of £8.00 from October 2019 would raise the NMW from 54 to 58 per cent of the median wage, but still leave it some way short of 66 per cent, the standard definition of ‘low pay’.

Interestingly, the NPF report also states that HMRC’s role in enforcing the NMW “should be expanded to include non-payment of holiday pay” and that Labour “will also consider expanding enforcement to include non-payment of statutory sick pay and statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay.” That would be very welcome.

Disappointingly, there is no commitment to addressing the ludicrously low rate at which statutory maternity, paternity and adoption leave are currently paid. In our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, we call for restoration of the real value of such pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on annual uprating since April 2013, and a programme of annual, real-terms increases to bring parity with the NMW within ten years.

On Universal Credit, the NPF report promises “a full review” and, if it goes ahead, “major changes [to] ensure the system makes work pay for both first and second earners … and is easy to access.”  This would be welcome.  In our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, we suggest the potential of Universal Credit to ensure that work really does pay could be enhanced by (a) introducing a work allowance for second earners, and (b) strengthening safeguards to prevent parents being pushed into family-unfriendly jobs by the threat of sanctions.

Childcare

The NPF report reiterates Labour’s previously announced policy of “extending free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents, paid for by an increase in the bank levy”, together with “access to ‘wraparound’ childcare from 8am to 6pm” for parents of primary school children, through their local school. The report states this will “benefit those families that most require childcare support and currently struggle to find good quality before-and-after school care.”

Clearly, any increase in the provision of free childcare is welcome. But, as with the Liberal Democrats’ pre-manifesto, Labour’s offer falls a long way short of the “national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years” that we call for in our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto.  And again it is disappointing to find no specific pledge to address the harsh childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children – the subject of a recent parliamentary inquiry.

[The next post in this series will look at how the Conservative Party’s policies measure up against our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto]

 

 

 

Does work leave you tired, stressed with no time for family? You’re not alone

Guest post by Heejung Chung, University of Kent

It’s just been Work-Life Week, when employers and employees are asked to think about how they juggle their working lives and to perhaps try to strike a balance.

In the UK, we’re more likely than others in neighbouring countries to feel that our working lives are at odds with our family lives.

In 2012 respondents across 29 European countries were asked in the European Social Survey: “How satisfied are you with the balance between the time you spend on your paid work and the time you spend on other aspects of your life?” On average, Britons answer just below seven (6.8) out of a scale of 0 (extremely unsatisfied) to 10 (extremely satisfied) – placing them smack in the middle of the countries surveyed.

This relative satisfaction is quite surprising when you take into account how Britons answered other questions relating to work-life balance. In 2010, more than a quarter of UK respondents told the European Social Survey that they often or always worry about work when not working – and a fifth said they felt their jobs prevented them from giving time to their partner or family. Meanwhile almost a third of all people surveyed said they felt too tired after work to enjoy life at home.

Just to put this into perspective, only about one in seven Norwegians said they worried about work when not working and felt that their jobs prevented enjoying things at home, and only one in eight felt their work prevented them from giving time to their families. In other words, Britons are about twice as likely as Norwegians to feel various types of conflict between their work life and family life.

It isn’t just the Norwegians – most of the UK’s Western European neighbours appear to be doing better in striking a balance between work and life.

Modern families

So why exactly do people feel like their work and family life are in conflict with one another? Of course, people with children – especially young children – are those who are more likely to feel that their jobs are preventing time with their families. They are also more likely to feel that they are not able to give time to other things, including housework, due to the time and energy they spend at work.

The most important factors in explaining why workers feel that their work life and family life, or other aspects of life, at are odds with one another are the number of hours spent at work and the demands at work. But what is also interesting is that it is not just your working hours, but your partner’s working hours that contribute to the amount of conflict you feel.

In other words, if your partner is putting long hours in the office, and you are left to take care of the children and put dinner on the table, you start feeling like your own work may be a bit too much.

Making our jobs work for us

Work-family conflict not only leads to negative outcomes for one’s own mental and physical well-being but it can have a devastating impact on one’s family, and can in turn lead to problems for the company, low productivity and high levels of sickness, absenteeism as well as societal issues such as lower fertility rates or loss of human capital from people leaving the workforce.

If governments and businesses want to solve this problem there are a number of things they can address, including policies to reduce household demands – such as generous childcare provision. The right to request flexible work has also been extended to all workers and can help, but only to an extent and not for some. If general working conditions and the gender division of labour don’t change, the right to flexible working cannot be the sole solution to our problems.

Can shorter working hours be a solution? There are many who have maintained that this will not only lead to better work-life balance but a stronger and greener economy.

When asked what was important when choosing a job in the 2010 survey, 85% replied that combining work and family responsibilities was important or very important. It is clearly time that these issues are taken much more seriously, with employers and society especially coming up with real solutions.

The Conversation

Heejung Chung receives funding from the ESRC for the project “Working-time flexibiilty and work-life balance” (Grant ref: ES/K009699/1)

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Manifesto 2015: how do the Liberal Democrats measure up?

By Richard Dunstan, Working Families Blog Editor

Last week, the Liberal Democrats issued their pre-manifesto for the May 2015 General Election. While the some 300 policy pledges in the pre-manifesto will be debated and voted on by party members at their conference in Glasgow early next month, the 80-page document provides a first opportunity to assess the likely policy pledges of one of the three main parties against our own ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, issued back in May this year.

In this context, the two most eye-catching proposals are 15 hours a week of free childcare for parents of all two-year-olds, and an increase in new fathers’  entitlement to statutory paid paternity leave, from two weeks to six weeks.

Childcare

On childcare, the pre-manifesto states that the “aim [is] to make 20 hours of free childcare a week available for all parents with children aged from two to four, and all working parents from the end of paid maternity leave (nine months) to two years, by 2020” and to “start by providing 15 hours a week of free childcare to the parents of all two-year-olds” with the £800m cost to be met “by cancelling the ineffective Conservative plan to introduce a marriage allowance into the tax system, [and] then prioritise 15 hours free childcare to all working parents with children aged between nine months and two years”.

The document also pledges the Liberal Democrats to completing “the introduction of tax-free childcare, which will provide support to parents of up to £2,000 for each child and include childcare support in Universal Credit, refunding 85% of childcare costs to make sure work pays for low earners”.

This unquestionably amounts to a bold move in the childcare political bidding war, which has been hotting up in recent months. However, it still falls a long way short of the “national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years” that we call for in our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto. And the pledge to continue with the tax-free childcare scheme is disappointing. In the words of Working Families helpline adviser Will Hadwen:

The tax-free childcare scheme and Universal Credit are inequitable in the way that they treat periods of work. Tax-free childcare is not means-tested, but Universal Credit is. The barriers to parents deciding which of the two to go for remain high, and it is not at all clear how or where they will get support to make that decision.

Neither the Coalition, nor now the Liberal Democrats themselves, seem to acknowledge that the conditions for each scheme may be met at different times by the same families. That is, one month Universal Credit may be the best bet for a family and then, a few months later, they would be better off with tax-free childcare. A commitment to one system of help for childcare, outside Universal Credit, would reduce complexity and increase incentives to work.

It is also deeply disappointing that the pre-manifesto contains no reference to – let alone a specific policy pledge to address – the especially harsh childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children, the subject of a recent parliamentary inquiry.

Paternity leave

The promise of six weeks of paid paternity leave is certainly very welcome, although it is not clear whether this ‘use-it-or-lose it’ entitlement would have to be used in the first two months after the birth. And it is disappointing that this increased leave entitlement would still be paid at the current, ludicrously low statutory rate.

All the evidence from other countries is that fathers take full advantage of paternity leave only when it is well-paid. And far too many men are not even taking their current entitlement of two weeks. Just a few months ago, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, noted that “a quarter of new fathers take only a week or less of paternity leave”. Those fathers won’t suddenly take more paternity leave just because more is available, if it’s paid at the same low rate as now.

In our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, we call for paid paternity leave to be increased from two weeks to six, but “with four of the six weeks available to be taken at any point during the child’s first year”. We also call for this to be a Day One right, and for all six weeks of this leave to be paid at 90 per cent of earnings.

Other issues

Elsewhere, the pre-manifesto contains welcome – if somewhat vague and strangely half-hearted – pledges to  “look at ways of raising the National Minimum Wage … and improve enforcement action”, to ensure that the Living Wage is “paid by all central government departments and executive agencies from April 2016 onwards”, and to “clamp down on any [sic] abusive practices in relation to zero hours contracts”.

However, there is little other than mandatory pay audits to tackle pay inequality and sex, pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace, and no mention of reforming the Coalition’s controversial employment tribunal fees. With the number of new cases down by 70%, it is now clear the fees amount to a charter for dinosaur and rogue employers, and the case for reform is overwhelming. In our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, we suggest that the fees “must be scrapped”.

Perhaps in Glasgow next month, the party’s rank-and-file members will propel at least some of these issues into the final manifesto for May 2015.

[In forthcoming posts, we will be looking at how the likely manifesto pledges of the Conservative, Labour and other parties measure up to our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto.]