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We asked some working mums about their perceptions of the challenges of lockdown.
What has the pandemic meant for working mums? We know that many have left their jobs or had to reduce their hours as a result of lockdown.
Our recent survey of over 500 mums published in early May before the easing of lockdown showed that over a fifth say they have flexed their work around childcare. Just 5% used paid childcare and 2% said they used grandparents. Ten per cent said they had someone at home who looked after the kids and 23% shared the care with a partner. However, a quarter were working their normal hours and trying to do childcare with no flexibility.
Eleven per cent had asked to be furloughed because of a lack of available childcare, but most said they had been turned down and, as a result, had to use informal care, unpaid leave, annual leave or work around their children.
While most employers were supporting their employees during lockdown, 25% said their employer was not doing a good job.
We spoke to some mums about how their lives have changed during lockdown. While many had seen their hours reduced, been furloughed or had lost their jobs, some said their workload has increased. Emma is a self-employed editor and has two children, aged six and 14. A single mum, she has been working throughout and has even increased her workload as some of her clients are busier due to the sector they work in and because they are not travelling as much. She says lockdown has been very stressful and she feels guilty that her children are missing out because she is working.
“It has been extremely stressful with the children at home and trying to ensure that I service my clients. I have had to work very late into the night on many occasions, and have worked evenings and weekends throughout to try and make up the time that I have given to the children when I would normally be working,” she says. She feels her youngest child’s education has suffered severely as a result.
For many mums, particularly freelances and those who have lost work or whose partner has lost work, financial hardship has been a huge pressure; while for others the double whammy of working and looking after children has been very challenging.
Rebecca works full time in education and has been working from home and has adapted well, but says the intensity of her son’s school workload has been stressful for him and her, exacerbating mental health issues she had before. She would like to be able to adopt a hybrid approach to work when she returns, with some home working and some office working.
Laura is a freelance writer and mum to two grown-up children, one of whom lives with her. She is used to working from home and also suffered from mental health issues before. However, unlike Rebecca. she has found the pandemic has given her impetus to get more control of her life, first by facing the truth that she has been struggling mentally and secondly by seeing what she can do to move forward.
For Janine, who works in an FE College, it is her caring responsibilities for her elderly mother and another relative which is causing stress. While her employer has been supportive and she has been able to juggle her caring responsibilities while working from home, she is very concerned about going back to work and has put in place adult social care for her elderly relative, which he has cancelled. She says she has some help from a sibling who lives at a distance, but that her caring responsibilities generally restrict her personal freedom.
In the main, however, Janine thinks lockdown has been positive for her work-wise. “I like working from home and I have good contact with my team via technology. I work more efficiently due to the lack of interruptions from colleagues and I enjoy not having to commute,” she says. “I don’t really miss the work environment apart from social contact with some colleagues. Management arranges regular online meetings attended by all staff. I have space and privacy at home which makes this an easier option.”
She would like to see a long-term reappraisal of working from home as an alternative method of working alongside proper resourcing, such as the loan of a work laptop and work mobile phone.