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Coronavirus has highlighted an issue that’s been present for years: employees are concerned about being negatively judged for needing working adjustments to accommodate their children. But what will the knock-on effects be and why do we need to act now to support working parents?

We take a look at the ongoing issues that working parents face, outline your legal standpoint and discuss what ‘reasonable’ adjustments can be made as society faces a modern-day childcare crisis.

 

UK Childcare Crisis

Childcare has been a hot topic since schools shut in March – exposing a lack of support for over 13 million working parents in the UK. That’s about 40% of the working population.

However, this is an ongoing issue. With entire year groups having to isolate and schools being forced to shut, this isn’t a problem that’s going out of the spotlight any time soon. So, why should employers get on board?

The UK is experiencing a childcare crisis – with a recent survey revealing that a lack of childcare played a role in almost half of female layoffs since the pandemic hit. Furthermore, even our keyworkers felt the strain with 67% forced to reduce their hours due to a lack of access to childcare.

It seems unlikely that any working parent will avoid childcare difficulties at some time over the coming months. So, let’s take a look at some of the issues contributing…

 

Issues of being a working parent

Lack of support for working parents

Have you ever felt concerned to admit to childcare issues or felt worried that you’d be met with a negative response? Well, you’re not the only one.

In fact, of those working mothers that did experience a lack of childcare during the pandemic, over half reported that they were met with negativity from their employer. Moreover, it’s likely that this fear will increase as we head into a recession and the peril of redundancy grows within society.

The lack of support goes beyond the employer, however. At current, accessing support is more difficult than ever. Whilst grandparents may be isolating or friends are unable to mix bubbles and pitch in together, many are looking to paid support in the form of nurseries or childminders.

Yet, they’ll be met with a nasty struggle – as many working parents may have found. Only 56% of local authorities have enough childcare for parents working full-time, meaning that childcare spaces are hard to come by, especially at such short notice.

High expenses

Despite the need for childcare to be seen as economic infrastructure, the investment simply doesn’t match and prices for childcare are snowballing out of control, as one of the most highly-regulated sectors push prices up year-on-year.

However, parents are left to brunt the cost of this regulation. In 2020, parents are paying an average of £6,800 for a part-time nursery place. That’s 5% more than last year – well ahead of inflation which sits at 1.50%.

Therefore, with childcare costs becoming an increasing strain on the family unit, it’s concerning to see that families are opting to reduce their groceries in favour of childcare, or feel forced to cut their hours to access tax-free support.

A backstep for equality

The role of a mother has shifted from a stay at home mum to working a triple shift – looking after the home, the family and a job.

As the primary caregiver in the UK, it appears that working mothers are perhaps the worst-affected by the childcare crisis, with a recent study revealing that 72% have been forced to reduce their hours (capping their earning potential) due to a lack of childcare.

But what will be the long-term affects of a mother having to put her career second?

  • Higher levels of female unemployment
  • Less women in senior roles
  • Reduced diversity
  • Increased gender pay gap

With 46% of working mothers stating that childcare was a deciding factor in their redundancy since the pandemic broke, this issue cannot be ignored any longer.

Therefore, in order to avoid taking a step back into the 40s, we must act now to support working parents as a whole.

 

Legal standpoint

As employers

An employee is entitled to take reasonable time off as “dependants leave” but only in specified circumstances. There is no statutory obligation on employers to pay the employee for the time off and what is “reasonable” is not mandated.

An employee also has a separate entitlement to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks (per child), at any time until the child is 18; but advance notice must be given (whereas time off for dependants is designed to deal with emergency situations).  One type of leave could transition into the other.

For more information about the rights surrounding work and childcare, download our detailed 9-page explainer in our Return to Work Toolkit.

As employees

In addition to dependants leave and unpaid parental leave, anyone who has worked for 26-weeks continuously has the statutory right to submit a formal flexible working request.

The request can include possible changes to work arrangements, such as:

  • Reduction or variation of working hours
  • Reduction or variation of the days worked
  • Working from a different location, eg home.

 

Employer Support – Going The Extra Mile

With all that said, what can employers do above the legal minimum to make the lives of working parents better? Well, here are just a few things to consider:

Normalise Working Parents

Everyone knows THAT news segment where the toddler broke in during an interview on BBC. But, have you seen how they handled the more recent interview with Dr Clare Wenham and her toddler’s unicorn? Normalising parenting can go a long way to reducing anxiety around childcare.

As with all change, ensure your leadership get on board and lead by example – being a parent and being a professional should not be a paradox.

Flexible Working

As the pandemic escalates the shift away from ‘traditional’ ways of working, it’s important to carefully consider your employee’s requests and try to be as accommodating as possible. Failure to do so will likely push them towards a decision of ‘work or home’ – meaning that you could lose out on quality talent.

Download our free flexible working request form and flexible working methods explainer here.

Be Understanding

Simple and effective: showing compassion and understanding to working parents can reduce the fear surrounding this widespread issue.

In such stressful times, employers should be making it as easy as possible for working parents to follow the rules and government guidance. For example, if an employee is concerned that they will lose their job if required to care for children forced to isolate, they may be encouraged to illegally break the isolation period to hide issues from their employer. This will put your workforce as a whole in jeopardy.

To combat the negative experiences of many, we must establish a safer, more understanding environment where employees are able to be transparent about the issues they face – without fear of an adverse reaction.

Policies

Putting formal policies in place to protect both the employee and employer can help establish a more collaborative approach to problem-solving. For example, by having a homeworking policy in place, employers can feel in control of individuals who seek to work from home on a more permanent basis.

Download our free policies here, including:

  • Homeworking policy
  • Health and wellbeing policy
  • Flexible working policy

Gender Pay Report

Whilst it isn’t legally required by all businesses, publishing an annual gender pay report can help employers to become conscious of inequalities within the business.

Consider checking in on the differences between genders in regards to pay, promotional opportunities and recruitment. The first step of righting a wrong is identifying it, after all!

 

Need more help?

During these testing times, the team at Crosse HR are trying to do their bit – supporting small businesses by providing free templates to help time and resources go further.

However, if you require further expert HR support and consultancy, please get in touch. Contact Crosse HR for shrewd, sensibly priced HR solutions you can rely on.