Over the pandemic, the UK’s 13 million working parents* have had to juggle childcare at the same time as meeting the demands of their job or finding suitable work. As we look ahead to the prospect of final restrictions being lifted later in the summer and more workplaces opening up, a new briefing for Working Families’ #FlexTheUK campaign, partnered by Wates Group, shows concern from many parents about a backward slide to less flexible work, and a desire to keep the positive changes that the pandemic has brought for their family life.
The YouGov polling highlighted just how mixed experiences have been over the course of more than 14 months of restrictions and lockdowns. While most working parents felt supported by their employer to manage their childcare arrangements (for example by changing their working patterns to manage home-schooling and caring responsibilities), a striking one in five working parents (19%) say they did not get any support from their employer to manage the challenges of being a parent during the pandemic. We also saw that middle class parents were far more likely to be given the chance to work flexibly and report the benefits of it on family life. In contrast, working class parents were less likely to have access to flexible working arrangements and, even when they did, they were less positive about its impact on family life.
Having been through a year of disruption and change to work and family life, it’s clear that many parents are keen to retain the positives that have come out of the pandemic when the final restrictions are lifted. 50% of parents are concerned that moving back to less flexible ways of working after the final restrictions are lifted will have a negative effect on family life – with more women than men expressing concern (53% v 47%).
The upcoming end of the furlough scheme is also causing concern for a very significant minority of parents. Nearly one in three (29%) parents who have worked throughout the pandemic are concerned that their caring responsibilities will put them at higher risk of redundancy once furlough ends. This worry is even more pronounced for women (34%) and working class parents (35%). This highlights how precarious work is for many parents, showing the need for more protections against redundancy to be brought in urgently – particularly for pregnant women and new parents.
Parents overwhelmingly want the government to intervene to create more flexible jobs (77%), and for employers to use their own initiative to do so (84%). A clear majority say they would be more likely to apply for a job that’s advertised as flexible than one that’s not in the future (69%).
The results of this polling send a strong message to both government and employers to prioritise flexible working to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic. As part of the #FlexTheUK campaign, we are calling for:
Employers to design and advertise jobs as flexible, and actively encourage flexible working as a way to support working parents and enhance wellbeing.
Government to bring forward their new Employment Bill in 2022 and include a duty on employers to make jobs flexible unless there is a business case not to; and take action against insecure employment practices.
Charmaine, a working parent, said:
“During the pandemic my husband started to work from home for the first time. This meant that he could spend more time with our daughter and help me more around the house. I returned to work after maternity leave and I was also asked to work from home. This made home and family life much easier for us to manage as we both have long commutes to and from work. We worry that as life returns to normal we may be asked to return to the office and this would make managing family life more difficult. We feel it would result in a negative impact on us and our daughter.”
Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, said:
“Working parents have had a uniquely challenging time over the pandemic – juggling the demands of work with childcare and homeschooling. Lifting the final restrictions on our daily lives will of course be hugely welcome in so many ways, but this new research shows how critical it is employers manage that transition sensitively, make the wellbeing of their staff teams a priority, and support working parents to keep the gains to family life they have seen through the pandemic.
“We are seeing, both through this polling and calls to our free legal advice service, a very real concern that parents who have had caring responsibilities through the pandemic will be most vulnerable to redundancy when the furlough scheme ends. It highlights the precarious nature of work for many parents, and the need for better redundancy protections for people with caring responsibilities.
“This polling sends a strong message to employers that if they want to reach a more diverse talent pool, including from the 13 million working parents in the UK today, they need to be building flexible working into jobs from the start. We are asking managers to focus on the quality of the work being delivered, not on demanding rigid times and places for working. As we work together to figure out our ‘new normal’, one thing is very clear: to go back to old, inflexible ways of working would not just be a bitter blow for many parents, it would make extremely bad business sense.”