Tag Archives: Statutory Paternity Pay

Unfrozen: a hollow victory for new parents?

In this guest post, Abi Wood of NCT argues that the Government has to do more for new parents than simply exempt maternity and parental pay from its benefits freeze.

Politicians usually love to talk about families, and their commitment to supporting them. After all, who isn’t in favour of motherhood and apple pie? But, unusually, there wasn’t a single mention of working families in last week’s Queen’s Speech.

Rumours had been circulating about where the £12 billion of cuts in welfare spending would fall, causing concern that they could hit new parents by reducing benefits such as statutory maternity and paternity pay. So you might expect charities that support new parents, such as NCT, to be relieved by the news that, while the rates of most working-age benefits will indeed be frozen for two years from 2016-17 under the Full Employment & Welfare Benefits Bill, statutory maternity, paternity, shared parental leave and adoption pay will be exempted.

But this simply isn’t good enough. Parents taking time away from work to raise the next generation currently receive a shockingly low £138 per week in statutory parental pay. That is almost £100 less than they would receive if they were working full-time on the minimum wage. And anyone who’s spent time with a baby knows that looking after them takes more than 40 hours a week.

On top of this, maternity and paternity pay has been losing value for the last few years. Since 2013, annual increases have been capped at one per cent, rather than going up in line with inflation. Research commissioned by NCT from the think-tank IPPR revealed that, as a result of this cap on annual increases, parents receive £224 less over their maternity or paternity leave. The study also showed that this cut hits the poorest fifth of families hardest.

Decently paid parental leave is vital to enable new mothers to recover from birth, and to enable both mothers and fathers to take time away from the workplace to bond and care for their new baby. The struggle to make ends meet increases the strain on families and can force parents to return to work before they are ready. One new mother told us: “I’m currently on leave but only able to take 14 weeks off as statutory pay is just not enough for me to pay the bills. This has affected everything, particularly not being able to breastfeed for as long as I would have liked to.”

So, while the Government might be expecting a positive reaction from the family sector for exempting maternity and parental pay from the freeze, they’re going to have to do a lot better than that. NCT will be campaigning for changes to help new parents, and we hope that next year’s Queen’s Speech will have some genuinely good news for them.

Abi Wood is Public Affairs Manager at NCT.

#GE2015: what might the other parties offer working families, if part of a new coalition?

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

Previously on this blog, we have compared the manifestos of the three main Westminster parties – the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats – against our own ‘families & work’ manifesto, Making work actually work for all. In this post we look at the manifestos of: the Green Party, Plaid Cymru in Wales, the SNP in Scotland, and Ukip. For, while none of these parties has any chance of forming the next government, it is quite possible that one or more may end up as part of a coalition government or supporting a minority government. And that could mean significant influence on government policy on some issues.

Our ‘families & work’ manifesto sets out eight specific policy proposals, grouped under four headings: time; equality; money; and childcare infrastructure. Each proposal was chosen as being emblematic of what we and the member organisations of the Families & Work Group believe should be the broad thrust of policy reform in these four areas. And each offered the political parties an opportunity to demonstrate a practical commitment to our vision of work that actually works for all families and all employers.

Time

Our two proposals were:

  • Adopt a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector, so as to increase the supply of good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs; and
  • Create a new statutory right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather a crisis in their caring responsibilities without giving up work.

No such policy pledges appear in the manifestos of the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, or Ukip. Indeed, none of the four parties appears to attach any great importance to the issues of ‘flexible working’ or ‘work-family balance’ – though the Greens do pledge to “phase in a 35-hour [working] week”. None uses the term ‘flexible working’ even once.

As with the manifestos of three main Westminster parties,  this is deeply disappointing. For – as demonstrated by our recent report on the work of our legal helpline in 2014, and an important new report this week by the Child Poverty Action Group – the notion of real work-life balance choice remains a fiction for all too many low-paid parents and carers. In low-paid sectors of the economy like social care, cleaning, and hospitality, hundreds of thousands of men and especially women work in ‘casualised’ forms of employment  – such as zero-hours contracts – that offer little in the way of pay, guaranteed hours, work-life balance rights, or job security. And what Citizens Advice calls the “hyper-flexibility” of such jobs is all one way.

Even for those in more secure forms of employment, there are key gaps in the legal framework for time off work to fulfil family or other caring responsibilities, especially at times of major crisis such as the onset of disability of a child. All too many working parents are forced to rely heavily on grandparents to provide childcare. And there is a severe shortage of good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs  – a situation that puts single parents and parents of disabled children at a particular disadvantage. Yet Camden Council and others are showing that it is perfectly possible for the public sector to start addressing this shortage by adopting a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design, and the private sector should be encouraged to follow.

Equality

Our two proposals were:

  • Increase statutory paid paternity leave from two to six weeks, paid at 90 per cent of earnings; and
  • Reform and simplify shared parental leave, including making it a ‘Day One’ right for fathers.

As with flexible working and work-family balance, the issues of maternity, paternity and parental leave are barely touched upon in the manifestos of the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and Ukip. The SNP  says that it would take action to secure “greater support for parents with increased paternity leave”, but gives no further detail. The words ‘maternity’, ‘paternity’ and ‘parental’ do not appear at all in either the Plaid Cymru or the Ukip manifestos. And, while the Ukip manifesto uses the word ‘leave’ 31 times, in all but five cases this is either as part of the phrase “leave the EU” or in a reference to the immigration status of ‘leave to remain’ in the UK.

Again, this is disappointing. For, while the rate at which it is paid remains so pitifully low – less than 60 per cent of the national minimum wage (see below) – take up of the new shared parental leave is likely to be slow.  Yet it is imperative 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 overall childcare costs for families. So the next government needs to work towards longer, more flexible and better paid periods of dedicated leave for fathers (and other partners).

More positively, the SNP manifesto includes pledges to “ensure that women are fairly treated at work with action to secure equal pay” and to “support the tightening of the law on maternity discrimination, with legislation introduced within the first year of a new UK government.” Similarly the Green Party pledges to “make equal pay for men and women a reality”, and to “ensure that the laws to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity pay are properly enforced”, including by “reducing employment tribunal fees so that tribunals are accessible to workers”. Interestingly, this week Business Secretary Vince Cable has admitted that the tribunal fees introduced in July 2013 were a “very bad move” that “should be reversed” as they are “discouraging people – particularly low paid women – from pursuing their [workplace] rights”. Plus there are welcome Green Party pledges to “reinstate” the funding of the Equality & Human Rights Commission, and “restore cuts to legal aid” – though it’s not at all clear how the £3.5 billion cost of the latter over five years would be funded.

The Plaid Cymru manifesto barely mentions discrimination of any kind, stating only that the party would “work closely with the Equality & Human Rights Commission to raise awareness and prevent discrimination in terms of access to employment”. However, there is a welcome pledge to “review the current levels of employment tribunal fees implemented by the UK government, whose high costs prevent workers from getting access to justice”.

Money

Our two proposals were:

  • Immediately restore the real value of statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on the annual uprating since 2013, and set out a programme of annual increases to raise such pay to at least the minimum wage within ten years; and
  • Enhance the potential of Universal Credit to ensure that work really does pay for all working families.

Sadly the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, SNP and Ukip manifestos give the rate at which maternity, paternity and parental leave is paid no more attention than they do the leave itself, though the Green Party does at least say it would “restore the link between state benefits and earnings, [and] ensure state benefits rise as fast as prices or wages (whichever grows more)”. Again, this is disappointing. At £139.58 per week, statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave pay equates to just 57 per cent of the adult national minimum wage (£243.75 for a 37.5-hour week, at £6.50 per hour), just 47 per cent of the Living Wage (£294.37 for a 37.5-hour week, at £7.85 per hour outside London), and a mere 27 per cent of the median gross weekly earnings of full-time employees (£518 in April 2014). Getting by on such a low income would be challenging at the best of times, but is especially hard when bearing all the additional costs that come with the birth of a child.

On the issue of low pay more generally, the Green Party says it would “increase the minimum wage so that it is a living wage. We propose a minimum wage target for everyone who is working in the UK of £10 per hour by 2020. In 2015, this would mean a minimum wage of £8/10 per hour generally (and £9.40 in London), saving £2.4 billion a year in tax credits and generating an additional £1.5 billion a year in income tax and National Insurance.”  Similarly, Plaid Cymru pledges to “increase the minimum wage to be the same level as the Living Wage over the next Parliament”, benefiting “more than 250,000 workers” in Wales.

The SNP says it would “vote to increase the minimum wage to £8.70 by 2020”, and that it would “support measures to extend the Living Wage across the UK” (the Scottish Government is already a Living Wage employer). Ukip has no target for the minimum wage rate, but – like the Conservatives – pledges to raise the income tax personal allowance to “at least £13,000” so as to “take those on the minimum wage out of tax altogether”. And Nigel Farage’s party promises to “enforce the minimum wage and reverse the [Coalition’s] cuts in the number of minimum wage inspectors”.

On Universal Credit (UC), the Green Party pledges to “halt implementation of the UC programme and carry out a thorough review of it structure and implementation, including the treatment of earned income, and removing conditionality”. The SNP also pledges to “halt the roll out of UC”, stating that “the current tapers for UC have been set too low, which means claimants will still be caught in the benefits trap, with clear financial disincentives in place for work … there should be an increase in the work allowance, to deliver a significant boost to the incomes of people moving into work”. And the Plaid Cymru manifesto states that “the UC system should not be implemented until a fully independent and comprehensive review is carried out”. The Ukip manifesto makes no mention of Universal Credit.

Childcare infrastructure

Our two proposals were:

  • Appoint a cabinet-level minister for childcare, to lead on developing a new national strategy aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years; and
  • Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children.

Childcare is the one issue mentioned in all four manifestos. The Green Party has the boldest ambition, with a pledge to “provide a comprehensive, nationwide system of good-quality pre-school early education and childcare, free at the point of delivery”. This would involve “building a free but voluntary universal education and childcare service for all children from birth until compulsory education age, which we would raise to 7 years”, and the party would “ensure that the system includes children’s centres for the very youngest children and their parents”. However, it is far from clear how the estimated £27 billion cost over five years would be funded.

The SNP manifesto sets out a more modest pledge – similar to that of the Conservatives and Labour – to “build on [the Scottish Government’s] current commitment to 600 hours of childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds” by “almost doubling the number of free hours to 30 hours a week of free childcare by the end of the next Scottish Parliament”.  Plaid Cymru manages only a very general promise to “aim to provide flexible and affordable childcare, particularly in deprived areas” and – while its manifesto sets out a “vision for childcare [of] a system where parents, teachers, schools, nurseries, children’s centres, local authorities, childcare providers and businesses all work together to make provision as affordable, flexible , available and as high-quality as possible” – Ukip promises only that it would “initiate a full review of childcare provision”.

While the Green Party pledges to “recognise the rights of children who are disabled, and their families, in education, the transition to adult life, [and] in childcare”, the Plaid Cymru manifesto is the only one of the seven we have examined over these two blog posts to specifically address the particularly acute childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children, stating: “We will help families with disabled children to be able to afford childcare and improve the availability of childcare for children with disabilities”.

Whoever forms the new government after 7 May, we at Working Families will be working hard to persuade ministers to follow this laudable 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.

 

 

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]

 

 

 

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.]

One year to go: a ‘families and work’ manifesto for May 2015

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

Previously on this blog, we set out a draft ‘families & work’ manifesto for the General Election in May 2015, with 14 specific policy proposals grouped under four headings: time; equality; money; and childcare infrastructure.  Using feedback on that draft from a wide range of partners, we have now honed the manifesto down to eight key policy proposals.

These eight proposals have been selected as being emblematic of what we believe should be the broader thrust of policy in these four areas. And each offers an opportunity for the political parties to demonstrate a practical commitment to our vision of work that actually works for all families and all employers – whatever their size and shape.

There is now less than a year to go until the General Election in May 2015, and over the coming weeks we will be using this manifesto to engage policy makers in dialogue on these issues, and will be further refining the manifesto in the light of feedback. So please do tell us your views, either by posting a comment below, or by emailing me at: richard.dunstan@workingfamilies.org.uk

Time

Despite great progress in both the law and 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.

With an ageing population, we need to recognise and support the growing role of grandparents in family care, including by granting grandparents a leave entitlement similar to the existing right to unpaid parental leave. The law on employment status needs to be updated to ensure that workers on zero-hours contracts, agency workers and others all enjoy access to ‘family-friendly’ rights. And we need to greatly increase the supply of good quality, flexible jobs.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Establish a new  right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather relatively short-term life crises such as the death, serious illness, or onset of disability of a partner, parent or child, or other major change in their caring responsibilities, without having to give up work.
  2. 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 unless there is a specific, good business reason not to. Ministers should act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and should encourage private sector employers to adopt Working Families’ Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline.

Equality at work and at home

Take-up of additional paternity leave beyond a short period at or shortly after the time of birth has been pitifully low.[i] 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. Yet 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.

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. So 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. To drive gender equality in the workplace and tackle the increasingly widespread discrimination around pregnancy and maternity leave, the hefty employment tribunal fees for claimants introduced in July 2013 must, at the very least, be reduced to a nominal level.[ii] And we need a clear statutory right to time-off and facilities for breastfeeding mothers upon return to work.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Increase the current statutory entitlement to paid paternity leave, from two weeks to six weeks, with four of the six 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 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 fathers from Day One of their employment, and enable statutory paid leave to be taken on a part-time basis.

Money

To achieve a good work-life balance, working parents need a flexible job that pays well enough to support a family. Yet Britain is suffering an increasingly entrenched crisis of low pay, which steals time from families and consumes vast subsidies by the State.

This challenge 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 increased and better enforced, which means more human and other resources for enforcement.  The design of Universal Credit needs to be further improved, to ensure work really does pay. And we need to start raising the astonishingly low level of statutory maternity and paternity pay – currently paid at just 60 per cent of the national minimum wage.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. 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. Enhance the potential of Universal Credit to ensure that work really does pay for all working families, 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 infrastructure

Despite a series of welcome political initiatives and considerable public investment, our childcare system is still not fit for purpose, with demand outstripping the supply of affordable childcare. All too often, parental choice about whether or how many hours to work is constrained or even dictated by the local availability of affordable childcare. And the childcare crunch is particularly acute for single parents, those working atypical hours, parents of disabled children, and those living in rural areas.

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. However, the challenge must be met not by children spending excessive time in costly childcare, but by more flexible working for parents and a better, more flexible supply of good quality, affordable childcare.

That amounts to a very significant challenge, which we believe will only be met when the issue of childcare is treated as one of economic and social infrastructure on a par with education and transport.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Appoint a cabinet-level, cross-departmental minister for childcare. In recognition of the fact that good childcare infrastructure boosts economic activity as well as child development, this minister should be based in both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. He or she should lead on developing a new national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years.
  2. Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of good quality, affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children. At present, only one in four local authorities report sufficiency of childcare for disabled children in their area.

Endnotes

[i] Official figures released by HM Revenue & Customs in April 2014 show that the employers of fewer than 3,900 fathers were reimbursed for statutory additional paternity leave in 2012/13. Hansard, House Commons, 3 April 2014, col. 746W.

[ii] The most recent figures made available by the Ministry of Justice show a dramatic fall in the number of employment tribunal claims by individual claimants, from an average of 4,530 per month prior to the introduction of claimant fees of up to £1,200 on 29 July 2013, to just 1,000 in September, 1,620 in October, 1,840 in November, and 1,500 in December.

Making Britain less Edwardian? Or just more Elizabethan?

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

Flexible working and family-friendly policies were on the agenda this morning, when the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, delivered a keynote speech at the launch of Cityfathers, a welcome new “network for City professionals who have a shared interest in balancing family life with a progressive career”.

The speech was strong on rhetoric and aspirations, with the Deputy Prime Minister asserting that “we need to tackle once and for all the hidden prejudices which still limit the choices of many men and women” with a “once-in-a-generation chain reaction across our offices, factories and other workplaces”.  Hear hear to that.

But it was less strong on history, with a headline-grabbing but somewhat baffling assertion that “we have to sweep away those Edwardian rules which still hold back those families working hard to juggle their responsibilities at home and at work. For decades, our parental leave system has been based on the assumption that it’s dad who goes out to work while mum cares for the kids – giving fathers two weeks off when your baby is first born and mothers up to a year”.

Edwardian rules? The statutory right of new fathers to two weeks’ paid paternity leave dates from 2003, and it was only in 2007 that paid maternity leave was extended from six to nine months (the plan to further extend it to a year later being abandoned).  And, as one expert noted recently, the reality is that during the Edwardian era – the decade after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 – a great many working class families counted on two wages, not one. Mr Clegg’s ‘dad at work while mum cares for the kids’ model is more a mid-20th century thing, for the masses at least.

Rather more seriously, the speech was somewhat longer on exhortation to employers than it was on governmental policies to “drag those clapped out rules into the 21st Century”. Avoiding any reference to the shockingly low rate at which statutory paternity leave is paid – less than 60 per cent of the national minimum wage – Mr Clegg suggested that the new right to shared parental leave, due to come into force in April 2015, will play a key role in making family-friendly working “the new norm in Britain”.

However, as the Fatherhood Institute was quick to point out, this legal change is most unlikely to significantly increase fathers’ uptake of parental leave above current levels – not least because “by the government’s own estimate, fathers in only one in three working families will be eligible for it”.  And cultural change will be glacially slow in coming so long as take up of paternity leave remains so pitifully low.

As we note in our draft ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015, it is vital that we get fathers more involved in caring for their children, so as to ensure gender equality in the home as well as at work,  and reduce overall childcare costs for families.  And to do this, we suggest that the government elected in 2015 needs to work towards longer, more flexible and better paid periods of dedicated leave for fathers. At the very least, statutory paternity (and maternity) pay needs to be steadily raised to at least parity with the national minimum wage, and entitlement to statutory paid paternity leave needs to be increased from two to six weeks, with further increases to follow in the longer term.

In short, what we need is not so much a sweeping away of Edwardian rules, but more – or simply better – Elizabethan rules. Elizabeth the Second, that is.

Postscript:  If I’ve been unduly harsh to Mr Clegg, I definitely have to hand it to Miriam Gonzalez Durantez – aka Mrs Clegg – who left little room for doubt when she ‘hijacked’ her husband’s Q&A following his Cityfathers speech to declare that men who take time out from work to look after their children have “more cojones”.  Amen to that.

 

Benefit cuts are hitting working families

By Richard Exell, Senior Policy Officer at the TUC

Yesterday, benefits and tax credits went up. It’s the time for the annual cost of living uprating, and Child Benefit will go up for the first time since 2010. But the truth is that low-paid workers are losing out badly from cuts to social security benefits, and those with children are especially hard-hit.

As of yesterday, statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay are paid at £138.18 a week – £7.87 a week less than if they had increased in line with Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation since 2011. Child Benefit for two children will be over £5 a week lower than it should have been, and a woman taking her full maternity leave will be more than £250 worse off.

Over the last three years, the papers have been full of the coalition government’s benefit cuts. There’s been the Bedroom Tax and the Benefit Cap, cuts in Housing Benefit and the abolition of Council Tax Benefit. But the biggest cut in cash terms comes from a change that’s hardly been reported: the rules on how benefits are raised to take account of inflation.

Until 2010, most non-means-tested benefits were uprated in line with the annual Retail Price Index (RPI) increase, measured the previous September. This increase was (as now) usually announced at the same time as the Budget and implemented in April.

Very soon after the coalition was formed, in its June 2010 Budget, the government announced that the RPI would no longer be used to determine the increase in benefits and state pensions; instead, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) would be used. It is really difficult to get people interested in this shift – I know, I’ve tried! – but the key fact about this change is that RPI is usually higher than CPI. If you look at how inflation has been measured by these indexes since the turn of the century, in an average year the RPI has said inflation was about 3.5 per cent; on average, the CPI has produced a figure of about 2.5 per cent.

This may not sound enormous, but remember school maths lessons about the effect of compound interest – if you’d had two benefits in 2000, worth the same amount, one uprated by RPI, the other by CPI, the first would be worth about ten per cent more today. The move to the CPI cut benefit spending by £1.2 billion in 2011/12 and the government estimated that this would rise to £5.8 billion by 2014/15.

But the government did not stop there. Child Benefit was singled out for special treatment and frozen in 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14 (as well as being taxed for higher paid workers).

And, on top of that, the Welfare Benefits Uprating Act 2013 limits the uprating of non-disabled working age people’s benefits (including benefits for children) by one per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16. They had already been uprated by just one per cent in 2013-14.

The government likes to claim that this policy is not just about cutting social security spending, it’s also supposed to be about fairness – making sure taxpayers are not subsidising people under retirement age who don’t want jobs. But these cuts – like the changes to uprating – don’t discriminate, they hit the benefits that low-paid workers need to get by. And this is especially true of family benefits:

Losses due to changes in benefit uprating

£ per week Rate after 2014 Budget Rate if policy had not been changed   Difference (weekly) Typical total difference
Child Benefit
  First child rate 20.50 23.74 3.24 168.48
  Rate for additional children 13.55 15.69 2.14 111.28
SAP 138.18 146.05 7.87 306.93
SMP 138.18 146.05 7.87 259.71
SPP 138.18 146.05 7.87 15.74

The typical total differences are calculated based on 52 weeks for Child Benefit, 33 weeks for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), 2 weeks for Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP), 39 weeks for Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP). The first 6 weeks of SMP is paid at 90 per cent of the woman’s normal earnings and so is not affected by the one per cent uprating; the remaining 33 weeks is paid at the lower of 90 per cent of normal earnings or £138.18.

Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay is paid for 2 weeks, at the lower of 90 per cent of normal earnings or £138.18. Statutory Adoption Pay is paid for 39 weeks at the lower of 90 per cent of normal earnings or £138.18.

1500 nappies: NCT reveals cost of the parent penalty

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

A few weeks ago, this blog highlighted the ludicrously low level of statutory maternity and paternity pay, compared to the national minimum wage, the Living Wage, or average earnings.  Yet just how new parents are supposed to get by on less than 60 per cent of the minimum wage – at a time when their outgoings have gone through the roof – is not a question you are likely to have heard any politician address recently.

Well, today NCT has had a go at trying to change that, with a great little report – based on some number-crunching by think tank IPPR – demonstrating the detrimental impact on family incomes of the Government’s decision to limit the annual uprating of statutory maternity and paternity pay to one per cent, rather than the inflation rate, in each of the three financial years from April 2013.

As this neat NCT infographic shows, by 2015 parents will effectively lose out by £224 over their full period of parental leave.  And this ‘parent penalty’ could have paid for 1,500 nappies, a year’s supply of sleep suits, or two months’ energy bills.parentPenaltyInfoGraphic

Ahead of this week’s Budget, NCT is calling on the Government to “end this parent penalty and increase maternity and paternity pay in line with the cost of living”.

Hear hear to that.  However, as the Valuing Maternity campaign has highlighted, the ‘parent penalty’ actually extends well beyond the cap on the annual uprating of statutory maternity and paternity pay. The campaign notes that the abolition of some benefits – such as the £190 Health in Pregnancy grant – and real-terms reductions in others, including the freeze on Child Benefit, has cost women and their families up to £3,000 since 2010. (If you are pregnant or a new mother in work or on maternity leave, you can use the campaign’s Cutbacks Calculator to see just how much you’ve lost).

What’s more, in the words of employers surveyed by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), in a report published earlier this month, statutory maternity and paternity pay is simply not “a liveable wage”.  And it is “immoral and damaging to society to force new mothers back into work before they [are] ready”. Hear hear to that.

So, in our ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015, we are likely to call for a series of annual, real-terms increases in the level of statutory maternity and paternity pay, so as to raise it, over time, to at least the national minimum wage.  Sure, that would carry a price tag. But seen as investment in Britain’s human capital – and, more specifically, in family health, child development, maternal employment, and gender equality – we believe it is a price well worth paying.

Getting the lowdown on maternity & paternity pay

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer, Working Families

Last week I sat in on a meeting held by the shadow minister for women & equalities, Sharon Hodgson MP, with a group of leading employers, to discuss best practice on supporting  new mothers and maximising maternal retention rates.  As Ms Hodgson notes in her report of the meeting “these are employers who know that supporting new parents isn’t just good for families, it’s good for business too; they recognise the importance and value of attracting and retaining talented women in their organisation, and have developed innovative, flexible and genuinely progressive approaches which others can and should learn from.”

However, if  the principal purpose of the meeting was to identify potential ways in which a future government could do more to support new mothers and their employers, the message from the employers present was surprisingly prosaic: increase the level of statutory maternity (and paternity) pay.

As one employer noted forcefully, at £136.78 per week, statutory maternity and paternity pay  equates to just 58 per cent of the adult National Minimum Wage (£236.63 for a 37.5-hour week, at £6.31 per hour).  It also equates to just 48 per cent of the Living Wage (£286.88 for 35-hour week, at £7.65 per hour outside London), and a mere 26 per cent of the median gross weekly earnings of full-time employees (£517 in April 2013).   Getting by on such a low income is challenging at the best of times, but is especially hard when bearing all the additional costs that come with parenthood.  So it’s easy to see that a hike in statutory maternity and paternity pay might well be more beneficial to struggling families than any eye-catching legal reform of the kind politicians tend to look for when writing their election manifestos.

Unfortunately, politicians of all parties are unlikely to have much appetite for any such hike in statutory maternity and paternity pay – at least for the foreseeable future.  All the main parties are signed up to achieving a budget surplus by 2018-19 and, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies reminded us today, as of April this year only 40 per cent of the necessary (and planned) budget cuts will be in place.  The Government has already capped the annual uprating of statutory maternity and paternity pay at one per cent, and a cap on overall social security spending from 2015 could even lead to cuts.

Yet statutory maternity and paternity pay (including maternity allowance) accounts for just 1.6 per cent of the total annual spend on social security, and at £2.75 billion per year is just a fraction of the sum spent subsidising landlords through housing benefit (£24.3 billion). And whilst the level at which it is paid remains so low relative to wages, the prospects for take-up by fathers of statutory shared parental leave – set to replace the existing system of statutory maternity and additional paternity leave from April 2015 – must be bleak.  For £136.78 per week equates to 30 per cent of the median gross weekly earnings of women (£459), but only 25 per cent of the median gross weekly earnings of men (£556).   And if take-up by the minority of fathers who will qualify is low, the cultural shift to shared parenting that all political parties say they want to engender will be glacially slow.

So, are there any politicians out there prepared to forego eye-catching ‘new ideas’ on parental rights at work in favour of pushing real cultural change with a bit of old-fashioned spending?  Time will tell but, if we find any, we’ll be sure to let you know.

In the meantime, please do use the comment button below to tell us what you think!