Tag Archives: Shared parenting

Grandparents & childcare: will our politicians learn from their electioneering?

In this guest post, Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus argues that politicians have yet to understand just how reliant many working parents are on grandparents for childcare.

Last week, journalist Gaby Hinsliff let us into one of those elephant-sized hidden truths of the general election campaign when she tweeted:

“This election’s basically reliant on grandparents: every MP/journo/aide with kids I’ve spoken to recently basically reliant on them for campaign childcare.”

So, electioneering doesn’t fit neatly into formal childcare hours – 15 hours of nursery care or the 8am – 6pm that a childminder might offer. Surprised? Yet dependent though they may be, how many of those politicos stop to think whether those grandparents deserve a bit of recognition for what they do? Or (perish the thought) what they would do without them to rely on? Not much campaigning after 6pm methinks, that’s for sure.

Every day across the UK, working parents rely heavily upon grandparents for childcare. Our grandparents – and, let’s be honest about it, often it’s our grandmothers – are the engine room of the UK economy keeping those ‘hard working families’ ‘hard working’. A recent Grandparents Plus Survation poll found that one in five working parents – that’s two million of them – would give up their jobs if they didn’t have grandparents to rely on. A further 20 per cent would reduce their hours. And no surprises to see that it’s mothers more than fathers who take the hit – but there were still 15 per cent of dads saying that they would give up work.

So what’s the problem? Grandparents do it for love, they enjoy it etc. Well, of course they do. But the challenge for us all, and for government is that grandparents aged 55-64 provide the lion’s share of the childcare with those aged 65-74 next in line. There are eight million grandparents providing childcare and most of them are now expected to be staying in work rather than providing childcare in their leisurely retirement. We are expecting these generations of grandparents to be both caring more and working longer – and it doesn’t stack up.

Another Grandparents Plus poll, this time in partnership with Family and Childcare Trust and Save the Children, found that 14 per cent of grandparents had either given up a job, reduced their hours or taken days off sick to provide childcare. That’s 1.9 million grandparents. Again, it’s grandmothers who are most likely to say they gave up work or reduced their hours, but 400,000 grandfathers did so too.

But look even closer at those who are doing the intensive caring and you see that it is younger grandmothers (those in their 50s or even 40s) who are particularly likely to be providing longer hours of childcare. DWP research found that low income mothers are twice as likely to rely exclusively on informal childcare when they go back to work after maternity leave. Formal childcare is often beyond their reach. Either it is too expensive, or (rather like our politicos – see above) it doesn’t suit their anti-social working hours, or they are in very insecure employment and simply cannot commit to a formal childcare arrangement. Those on low pay also have less job security so how can they pay a childminder if they don’t know if they are working tomorrow?

So what’s the solution? Grandparents Plus has consistently argued for a period of grandparental leave which can be taken flexibly by grandparents who are providing childcare for working parents. Alternatively we also argue that if we see the need for shared parental leave, and conceded the principle of transferability then why not make it possible for parents to share unpaid parental leave (i.e. the 18 weeks that can be taken until a child is five) with a grandparent? This would provide some flexibility and would also enable grandparents to support when formal childcare often cannot (e.g. if a child is sick).

Together with a meaningful investment in formal childcare we could create an infrastructure of support for working parents that they can rely on and that responds to the reality of their daily lives. By doing so we would be helping our workforce’s ‘missing millions’ mothers and grandmothers stay in work. This in turn would also help employers as they would see reduce staff absences and improve retention rates.

When we ask grandparents, the public and parents a clear majority supports the policy and amongst those most affected, there is strong support. We just need our politicians (yes those mentioned above so dependent on grandparents) to get it too.

Sam Smethers is Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus.

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

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.

 

 

Closing the gender pay gap: equal pay audits, or more equal parenting?

By Richard Dunstan, Working Families volunteer

Recent weeks have seen renewed calls for the introduction of mandatory equal pay audits in order to close the gender pay gap, which according to the Office of National Statistics now stands at 19.7 per cent.  This follows a set-piece speech by Gloria De Piero MP, Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, in which she committed the next Labour government to legislate for such pay audits, and a survey report on the gender pay gap among senior managers by the Chartered Management Institute and XpertHR.

In the Guardian, noting that, at the current rate of progress, it will take another 60 years to close the gender pay gap, columnist Lauren Laverne posed the question: “We have to wait a hundred years for the 1970 Equal Pay Act to work? Are you on glue?” Meanwhile, over on the Women in Leadership pages, the first of Harriet Minter’s five proposals to end the gender pay gap was: “make reporting on pay data mandatory”. According to Minter, this would “bring an end to the madness” of “women being paid less than men”, and “guarantee a fair and equal wage for all”. And, noting the CMI/XpertHR finding that male company directors take home £21,000 more each year than their female counterparts, the Work Foundation’s Professor Stephen Bevan found it “hard to resist the conclusion that equal pay audits should now become mandatory”.

Hmmm. The problem with that line of argument is that it assumes – or, at least, conveys the message – that (a) the gender pay gap is mostly about women being paid less than men to do the same or very similar work; and (b) this is all due to wicked employers having gender discriminatory rates of pay. Accordingly – or so the argument runs – all you have do to close the gender pay gap is shame all those wicked employers into paying their staff equally by making them conduct and publish equal pay audits.

In reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that – the gender pay gap is one of those problems that’s easier analysed than solved. Discriminatory pay by employers is just one of several factors behind the gender pay gap, and is quite possibly one of the least influential, overall (which is no consolation if you are one of the all too many women subject to such discrimination). As Professor Bevan himself notes, “a range of factors are frequently shown to have strong explanatory power, including occupational segregation (and a lower societal value placed on so-called ‘women’s work’), [and] the impact of part-time working both on pay itself and the life-time accumulation of ‘human capital”, as well as “both direct and indirect discrimination”. In 2012, research commissioned by the Government Equalities Office could find only 13 ‘equal pay’ employment tribunal judgments against employers other than the NHS and local authorities in the three-year period 2009-11, and only 41 such judgments between 2004 and 2011.

Furthermore, most if not all of those calling for mandatory equal pay audits are in fact proposing only that they be mandatory for large employers – that is, those with more than 250 employees. Yet such companies employ less than 10 million (40 per cent) of the national workforce of some 24.3 million. So mandatory equal pay audits wouldn’t bring any direct benefit to the 60 per cent of the workforce employed in small and medium sized businesses. And, in the public sector, almost four in five employers (77 per cent) have already conducted an equal pay audit. The remaining one in five could surely be exhorted to do so by ministers, without creating new legislation.

Accordingly, as supportive as I am of gender equality and of tackling sex discrimination in the workplace, it’s never been entirely clear to me how or why mandatory equal pay audits would have more than a marginal impact on a complex problem. Indeed, even if such pay audits were wholly successful in eliminating gender discriminatory pay rates, a significant gender pay gap would still remain, due to the influence of other, arguably more powerful factors – not least the substantial impact on women’s earnings of taking time out of the labour market to have and care for children.

As the economist and blogger FlipChartRick highlighted last week in a must-read post, the gender pay gap is not spread evenly among women of all ages and all pay brackets. Far from it. Citing analysis by David Richter of Octopus HR, FlipChartRick argues that “the full-time pay gap at the median [pay level] has almost disappeared for those in their twenties, with women earning slightly more than men [on average] in recent years”. And “there has been a significant fall in the gender pay gap for those in their thirties”.

Moreover, while “the pay differential for those in their twenties is fairly narrow, even at the very top level [of pay], the pay gap for those over 40 is significant at all levels of the pay distribution but much higher at the top”. In short, “age and position in the earnings distribution has a significant effect on the gender pay gap. Women over 40 and in the upper income bracket earn significantly less” than their male counterparts. That is, “the gender pay gap appears just at the point in the age distribution” when many women are taking time out of the labour market to care for young children, and “children have more of an impact on women’s pay than men’s” because it is women “who take on most of the childcare responsibilities”.

FlipChartRick concludes that:

“introducing mandatory equal pay audits might yield some interesting information for pay data geeks to pore over, but I doubt that it [would] tell us much that we don’t already know, or even whether it [would] reveal some major employers to be significantly worse than others. It is unlikely that the gender pay gap will disappear until equal proportions of women and men take equal responsibility for childcare”.

In short, a more effective means of addressing the gender pay gap would be to facilitate, encourage and support more shared parenting. But this is not something you are likely to have heard from government ministers or lobby groups such as the TUC and CBI (both strong supporters of mandatory equal pay audits for large employers).

For example, in recent weeks, as part of her “mission to promote shared parental leave” – a policy reform intended to make the proportions of women and men taking responsibility for childcare more equal – the BIS minister Jo Swinson has given a number of major media interviews, including in the Evening Standard, in the Independent, and with Family Networks Scotland. However, while Ms Swinson – another strong supporter of mandatory equal  pay audits for companies with more than 250 employers – used these interviews to make much of “recognising that dads want to have a bigger role in their child’s life from the first days” and boosting parental choice, she signally failed even to mention the gender pay gap and the central role that shared parental leave (and more shared parenting) could play in closing it.

To my mind, this is a missed opportunity that reflects yet another lack of joined-up policy thinking within government. But perhaps after May 2015 both elected politicians and the relevant campaign and lobby groups will pay greater attention to the (rather obvious) link between the gender pay gap and the need for more shared parenting. And then we might just see progress on win-win policies – such as increasing the shockingly low rate of statutory maternity, paternity and parental leave pay, and increasing the amount of well paid paternity leave – that would facilitate and encourage more shared parenting and so help close the gender pay gap.

Shared parental leave: brave new world, or ‘damp squib’?

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

In recent weeks, there’s been a sudden spate of news articles about the new system of shared parental leave, even though it’s not due to come into force until April 2015. This could just be coincidence, or it could be that several writers noticed that the first babies whose parents will use the new system – those born prematurely, and who will therefore be covered by provisions of the new legal regime that will come into force in October this year – are being conceived right now. Well, maybe not right now, as it’s early afternoon as I write this, but you know what I mean.

At the same time, several government ministers involved in steering the Children & Families Act 2014 through Parliament have used keynote speeches to promote the new regime. Last month, the BIS employment relations minister, Jenny Willott, jokingly apologised to her audience for “banging on” about shared parental leave:

“But I’m really proud of the fact that we’re bringing it in and I think it’s really important. It will send a very important message about a father’s role in caring for their children and a woman’s value both in the workplace and in the family. And in the long term it will enable women to have more choice over their career progression and allow parents more choice on how to arrange childcare and give father’s a real chance to take more responsibility for their children when young.”

A couple of weeks later, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, asserted that the 2014 Act will drag our “clapped out rules [on parental leave] into the 21st Century”. And last week , during a speech on labour market flexibility, Business Secretary Vince Cable expressed his deep satisfaction at “having extended the right to request flexible working and introduced shared parental leave. I am convinced that these [will] help talented people manage complicated lives, and improve the quality of the workplace.”

Outside government, however, such confidence is not so universal. Earlier this month, new research by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) suggested that  almost a third of fathers would not even consider using shared parental leave. Of those, 45 per cent said this was because of the shockingly low rate at which statutory leave will be paid – some £140 per week, or just 60 per cent of the national minimum wage. 

Almost 90 per cent of human resources professionals and employment lawyers surveyed by law firm Norton Rose in March believe there will be low take-up of shared parental leave by fathers, and the Institute of Public Policy Research has expressed severe doubt about the prospects of greater take-up of leave by fathers. Most pessimistically of all, this week the Fatherhood Institute’s Adrienne Burgess predicted that shared parental leave will be a “damp squib” and will have “no impact on uptake by fathers and therefore no impact on women in the workplace”.

So who is right? Well, it certainly won’t be hard for take-up of shared parental leave by fathers to be an improvement on take up of additional paternity leave since its introduction in April 2011: official figures indicate that a mere 3,900 fathers received statutory additional paternity pay in 2012/13 (though that represents a 100 per cent increase on the previous year, so things were going in the right direction). And many of the employer members of Working Families tell us that shared parental leave “makes a lot of sense for younger fathers” and that they expect to see increasing take-up among their staff.

Time will tell. As will the monitoring of take-up of shared parental leave that we are told will be conducted by BIS, which should result in greater clarity than has been the case with additional paternity leave.

Watch this space!

‘My children are my world, but without my career I can’t afford to pay for their world.’

In this guest post, Louisa Symington-Mills of Citymothers, the network for working mothers in City professions, explains what led her to last month’s launch of Cityfathers.

I created Citymothers in late 2012 following my own experience of returning to work in banking after the birth of my first child. I find it hard to pinpoint the source of the idea, which arrived in my head one dark November morning.

Certainly, when I returned to work after maternity leave, I felt isolated from the networking opportunities I had previously enjoyed, due to the simple practical problem of networking events in the City so often taking place after work. Pre-baby, I hadn’t thought twice about attending events in the evening, but now things felt very different. Even if the logistical challenges of finding a babysitter could be addressed, summoning the energy to support a late night generally couldn’t be.

At the same time, I was struck by the lack of support for working mothers in the City. Having returned to work after a four-month maternity leave with a flexible working arrangement (working three days a week in London and two days at home), the ease with which my arrangement was signed off by HR meant that I didn’t foresee the intense effort involved in actually making it work (and by making it work, I mean keeping my team happy), day by day.

As someone who had spent the previous six years navigating an upward trending career path with confidence, I was naively unprepared for the challenges of being a working mother. Surely it wasn’t just me? And so it became apparent that there was a need for both networking and relevant events, with a new organisation that could offer these opportunities at convenient times of day. So I started Citymothers, and it started to grow.

As time went on however, it became clear that we leaving someone out of the work/life balance equation – the Cityfather. Now, being a working mother is not easy – as a mother of two young children aged nine months and two years, and with a full time job in private equity, I can certainly testify to the challenges. But being a working father is possibly harder still.

Flexible working arrangements – for many, the key to a happier office and home life balance – can carry huge stigma, and all the more so for men.  I know fathers who say goodbye to their children on a Sunday night and greet them again on a Saturday morning, an unsurprising but sad side-effect of a City job with long hours and a commute.

Their working wives, by contrast, often afforded some flexibility by their employers, make an exhaustive (and exhausting) effort to be more present and involved in their children’s lives – working part-time, from home, or full time with a structured gap each evening to put the children to bed before resuming work remotely. And this perhaps is why women who work and have children are labelled ‘working mothers’, whilst the equivalent label is rarely applied to men.

I asked one Cityfather I know – one of a very few I’m aware of who has any kind of flexible working arrangement – if he would share his thoughts on why it is so rare for City men to work flexibly. “I’m so sorry, but work would take a really dim view of my situation being publicised”, was the response. And he’s not the only one to feel this way.

In the run up to the launch of Cityfathers last month, we carried out a survey of working fathers in the City and Canary Wharf. The survey revealed a City culture of stigma, where even a request for flexible working was thought to signal an end to a man’s career.  Of a total 750 respondents, just under half said their work/life balance was less than satisfactory.

Tellingly, less than 30 per cent said their experience of being a working father was positive, with the vast majority saying it was either ‘ok – a work in progress’ or ‘a struggle’. Just one year before all new fathers have the right to share parental leave with their partner, the survey found men in City professions divided as to whether they would consider taking up shared parental leave, despite nearly half saying that ‘missing their children’ is their biggest daily challenge.

There were lots of other interesting comments and observations, far too many to repeat here, but for me one comment from a working father stands out:

‘It’s a daily choice between career and family – I have to sacrifice one or the other. My children are my world, but without my career I can’t afford to pay for their world.’

By talking about why the City should embrace flexibility, offering encouragement and peer support to those who wish to be more involved in family life as well as progress a City career, and education and guidance to management, this culture can be changed for the benefit of everyone.

After all, it is not only children who stand to gain from having more involved fathers – the benefits of flexible working for employers have been proven in terms of employee productivity and talent retention. In providing a forum for working fathers to meet others with similar ambitions and priorities, and to hear from thought leaders both within and outside the City, we hope Cityfathers – along with Citymothers – will be a vital part of this process.

Making work actually work for all: a ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

With fewer than 400 days to go until the general election in May 2015, teams of strategists, number-crunchers and policy wonks in each of the main parties will be burning the midnight oil between now and the party conference season in September, when the party manifestos are likely to be finalised. And, to help them in their task, we at Working Families have come up with some key policy actions we believe the next government must take if work is actually to work for families – whatever their size and shape.

In recent decades, the world of work has changed enormously – in many ways for the better. But for all too many families, work simply isn’t working. Time-poor or cash-poor, or both, they struggle to achieve more than a barely tolerable work-life compromise. For them, the world of work has not changed anywhere near enough.

And for employers, the lack of flexibility in how we organise work brings very real costs in low productivity, lost skills and experience, and a reduced talent pool.

The next government needs to act to ensure that work actually works for all. Working parents, grandparents and carers need the twin currencies of time and money.  They need equality in the home, as well as at work. They need access to justice. And they need proper support with childcare.

So below we set out a draft ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015, with 14 specific policy actions grouped under the headings of time, equality at work and at home, money, and childcare infrastructure. Over the next few weeks, we will be trying to pare these down to a handful of key policy calls – and we want your input!

Please take the time to read this draft manifesto, and either post a comment in the box below or get in touch with me at richard.dunstan@workingfamilies.org.uk  We are listening!

Time

Despite great progress in both the law and in employer best practice, negative assumptions about flexible and family-friendly working persist. Reduced-hours working is still heavily gendered and all too often seen as a lack of commitment, with senior roles and flexible working wrongly held to be incompatible. There are key gaps in the legal framework for time off work in order to fulfil family responsibilities, especially at times of crisis.  And there are simply too few good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs, putting single parents and parents of disabled children at particular disadvantage.

It is vital that we get fathers more involved in caring for their children, to ensure gender equality in the home as well as at work, limit the time that very young children spend in non-parental care, and reduce childcare costs for families. We need to recognise the growing role of grandparents. And we need to increase the supply of flexible jobs.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Establish a new statutory right to a period of unpaid adjustment leave, to enable families to weather life crises such as the death, serious illness, or onset of disability of a partner, parent or child, or other major change in caring responsibilities, without having to give up work.
  2. Establish a new, statutory leave entitlement, similar to the existing right to unpaid parental leave, for grandparents.
  3. Adopt 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. Ministers should act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and encourage private sector employers to adopt Working Families’ Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline.
  4. Reform the new right to Shared Parental Leave – due to come into force in April 2015 – so as to simplify the legal framework, open eligibility to all working fathers from Day One of their employment, enable leave to be taken on a part-time basis, and enable the sharing of leave with a close relative other than the child’s father.

Equality at work and at home

Take-up of paternity leave over the past decade has been pitifully low. And, whilst the rate at which it is paid remains so low, take-up by fathers of the new Shared Parental Leave is also likely to be low. The evidence from other countries is that fathers take full advantage of paternity leave only when it is well paid, and is a stand-alone right. To ensure equality in the home, we need to work towards longer, more flexible and better paid periods of dedicated leave for fathers.

To be meaningful, rights on paper need to be enforceable. Yet access to justice in relation to workplace rights – including the right not to be unfairly dismissed – has been seriously eroded in recent years. To drive gender equality in the workplace, and tackle the widespread discrimination around pregnancy and maternity leave, this must be remedied.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Increase the current statutory entitlement to paid paternity leave, from two weeks to six weeks, with four weeks available to be taken at any point during the child’s first year. This should be a Day One right and, like the first six weeks of statutory maternity leave, this leave should be paid at 90 per cent of earnings.
  2. Reform the hefty, upfront fees for employment tribunal claimants introduced in July 2013, so as to reduce claimant fees to a nominal level.
  3. Undertake a review of the law on employment status, with a view to giving workers on zero-hours contracts, agency workers, freelancers, and home-workers  access to the same set of ‘family-friendly’ rights as other employees, as well as effective legal protection against unfair dismissal.
  4. Introduce a statutory right to time-off and facilities for breastfeeding mothers upon return to work, and clear legal protection against discrimination.

Money

To achieve a good work-life balance, working parents need a flexible job that pays well enough to support a family. They need the twin currencies of time and money. Yet Britain is suffering a crisis of low pay, which steals time from families and their children.

This crisis requires robust action. We need to see more employers adopting the Living Wage, and the government should take an active role in making this happen. The national minimum wage needs to be both substantially increased and better enforced, which means more human and other resources for enforcement.  And we need to start raising statutory maternity and paternity pay – currently paid at a shockingly low 60 per cent of the national minimum wage – towards wage-replacement levels. For with better and more equal pay will come better and more equal parenting.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Immediately restore the real value of statutory maternity and paternity pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on annual uprating since April 2013, and set out a programme of annual real terms increases so as to raise such pay to at least the level of the national minimum wage within ten years.
  2. Rapidly raise the national minimum wage rate towards 60 per cent of median wages, and introduce a London supplement.
  3. Reform the work allowances in Universal Credit, to allow families to earn more before they have their support withdrawn.

Childcare infrastructure

Our childcare ‘system’ is simply not fit for purpose, with demand far outstripping the local supply of affordable childcare. And the childcare crunch is particularly acute for single parents, those working atypical hours, and parents of disabled children.

We need to work towards a system that delivers good quality, affordable childcare to all working parents when they need it, whilst at the same time protecting and enhancing the well-being of our children. Our childcare crisis must not be solved by excessive time in non-parental care for children, but by more flexible working for parents and a better, more flexible supply of good quality, affordable childcare.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Appoint a cabinet-level, cross-departmental minister for childcare. In recognition of the fact that childcare infrastructure facilitates economic activity, this minister should be based in both the Department for Education, and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.
  2. This minister should lead on developing a new national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years.
  3. Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of good quality, affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children.

 

Parenting: a mother AND father thing

In this guest post, Duncan Fisher, founder and former CEO of the Fatherhood Institute, explains what led him to establish new shared parenting blog MumsandDadsNet.

When we first had a baby I came across an amazing book by Phil and Carolyn Cowan, When Partners become Parents. It reported a big study of what happens to couples when they have a baby. In a nutshell:

  • many couples lead more divided lives than they had expected and are taken by surprise by this and feel it is happening to them, not through choice
  • the more different their lives are from each other, the more unhappy they tend to be.

This book profoundly helped my family and it got me really interested, because nobody else was saying this stuff. Since then there have been lots more books and studies and debate. Kyle and Marsha Pruett wrote Partnership Parenting about how to organise parenting as a duo. Rebecca Asher wrote Shattered about the illusion that things have got easier for mothers. Gideon Burrows wrote Men Can Do It, questioning if men have changed so much.

Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober wrote Getting to 50:50 how working parents can have it all, making the case that no parent can have it all unless their partner does too. Gaby Hinsliff wrote a book, Half a Wife, concluding that unless the role of fathers changes a lot more, the role of mothers is stuck where it is. In the USA, Amy and Marc Vachon set up a website – EquallySharedParenting.com – to advocate a radical equality in division of household tasks, not an idea to everyone’s taste but it’s really thought provoking and challenging.

There have been studies about how same sex couples organise domestic life, showing how heterosexual couples are influenced by stereotypes. There have been studies of the history of parenting showing that the idea of the “new dad” is rubbish. There have been amazing studies and books about the anthropology of parenting, showing that the idea of a mum all by herself looking after a baby without shedloads of support from those around her is not how mothers and babies and families thrive.

There have been studies about how adult relationships in a family affect the development of children’s brains. Other studies are showing that if you want a pregnant woman to stop smoking, or encourage a new mum to breastfeed, you are better off getting the whole family on board – dads have more influence over breastfeeding than health visitors! US advertisers are discovering that if you want a family with young children to buy something, it’s also better if you advertise to more than one member of the family.

Every now and then, there is a really interesting blog or article on the topic – I particularly enjoyed a recent one about why families tend to think that the childcare costs are paid out of the mother’s income, rather than the income of both parents; don’t working fathers also depend on someone to look after their children when they work?

Another area of study I have particularly enjoyed is about multi-tasking, blowing out of the water the idea that women are better at it than men – this is just a myth that somehow justifies the status quo as a biological inevitability. The idea suits a lot of people, but that does not make it right. The idea that the world was flat also suited a lot of people.

The idea of MumsandDadsNet is to bring this conversation more out into the open. We have launched small: a blog website and a conversation on Facebook and Twitter, and we are watching the way the wind blows.

In the first weeks we have hundreds of engagements and from that we have already learned a lot about what might be next. Some people have proposed a campaign by women and men together for greater opportunities to share roles, since institutions, policies and social attitudes are lagging behind what many families want and need. Others have suggested the expansion into a full-scale social network.

Watch this space!