A new Working Families report calls for urgent clarification and action from Government to support working parents facing childcare issues due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Working parents urgently need increased support during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from Working Families, which highlights that women are being adversely affected by employers assuming only they will have to look after children following childcare closures.
The report is informed by queries to the charity’s free legal advice helpline, which have quadrupled since the start of the pandemic. Since mid-March, over 36,000 people have accessed the charity’s coronavirus-focused legal advice web pages.
The report highlights the ongoing challenges working parents are facing as a result of COVID-19, which greatly increased when schools and childcare settings were closed on 20 March 2020. They mirror many of the questions workingmums.co.uk is receiving from parents who are urgently seeking information about issues such as childcare and employment rights.
Working Families says many parents are being forced to take unpaid leave or are losing their jobs, bringing economic uncertainty and hardship at the worst possible time.
The organisation is calling for clear guidance that employers can ‘furlough’ (i.e. seek reimbursement of 80% of wages, up to £2,500 a month) parents whose childcare commitments make working from home impossible. Otherwise, it says, parents will have to rely on unpaid leave and benefits.
It is also calling on the government to explore options enabling employers that need to, to claim for the hours parents who need to reduce their hours for childcare reasons can’t work so they aren’t disadvantaged compared to furloughed employees who aren’t working at all.
Additionally, it wants to see a significant increase in Child Benefit payments for the duration of the pandemic for existing and new claimants to help parents who have taken unpaid leave or been dismissed as a result of COVID-19.
And it says the Government must make it clear that, where it isn’t possible for pregnant women to work from home as advised, employers should be suspending pregnant women on full pay until their maternity leave starts.
Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “Because of COVID-19, parents across the UK have been thrust into a ‘new normal’ of holding down a job whilst looking after children. These parents need employers that support homeworking and are willing to have pragmatic discussions about output and deadlines. We’re deeply concerned about the unwillingness of some employers to be flexible.
“It’s important the government explores supporting employers to continue to pay parents at or near their usual salary if their hours have been reduced because of childcare. Where it’s impossible for parents to work because of childcare, being ‘furloughed’ must be an option. We need to keep parents in work to ensure that the UK economy is in the strongest possible position after the pandemic.”
She added that some employers seemed to be assuming only women employees would have to do childcare. She said: “We have seen clear evidence that fathers are not being asked about how they will manage work and care at this time. The expectation is very much that women will take over childcare full time, affecting their ability to work. Whilst reducing their hours or being ‘furloughed’ is preferable to losing their job, the government and employers must be mindful not to turn back the gender equality clock.”
And she said there was particular concern about insecure work. “The coronavirus pandemic has brutally exposed that insecure, low-paid jobs – that only pay when you can pick up shifts, leave you with no options if you get sick or if your childcare breaks down, and leave you vulnerable to being let go at will – simply don’t work for families,” she stated. “It’s time to end the inequality in access to employment rights based on employment status.”