We look at the main news stories that we covered on the cost-of-living crisis, childcare, gender equality, flexible working, and more.
The UK was thrown into uncertainty over the summer, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned in July and sparked a Tory leadership contest, against a backdrop of rising inflation and crippling labour shortages.
We look at the main news stories that workingmums.co.uk covered in May-August, concerning the cost-of-living crisis, childcare, gender equality, flexible working, and more.
In childcare news, the government announced it would start consulting on its proposal to “relax the ratios” for the number of staff needed to look after two-year-olds, from 1:4 to 1:5. The government said this could lower fees for parents – but almost all early-years childcare providers opposed the plans and only 2% said it would result in lower fees, according to a survey by the Early Years Alliance. Meanwhile, new data showed that the number of families claiming the Tax-Free Childcare subsidy had risen to just over half a million.
When it came to other government policies and initiatives, there was widespread disappointment when the Employment Bill was shelved once more – it had been due to contain reforms on flexible working and carers’ leave. Separately, the government announced a “Future of Work” review and a taskforce on women entrepreneurs – but neither initiative has the legally binding strength of a new law.
In May, there were also several pieces of research concerning gender equality. A study by HRData found that the gender pay gap among FTSE 100 companies had fallen by just 1.2% since 2017, while almost a third of companies had increased their gap. On the plus-side, another study showed that over half of new board seats on FTSE 350 companies in the last year had been women (although they remained under-represented in the most influential roles). Meanwhile, research by the Fawcett Society and the Runnymede Trust, showed how women of colour face a double-disadvantage – three-quarters had experienced racism at work.
On the subject of employment trends and flexible working, the UK’s labour shortage continued to bite – official data showed that, for the first time since records began, there were fewer unemployed people than job vacancies. Health issues were cited as one reason for worker shortages, and CIPD research showed that high numbers of workers were also working while they were too sick to do their job properly. Meanwhile, other official data showed that the proportion of people doing hybrid-working had risen in recent months.
This month saw a lot of news about parental leave and support. A Pregnant Then Screwed survey found that one in four dads had continued to work whilst on paternity leave, and that in many cases there was an expectation from their employer to do so. A neonatal leave and pay bill was introduced in parliament, to provide additional paid leave for working parents and carers of babies in neonatal care. Meanwhile, a survey showed that most managers wanted to support staff after a pregnancy loss but didn’t know what to do.
On gender equality, PwC analysis showed that the UK’s overall gender pay gap was continuing to narrow but only very slowly, meaning that the gap might not fully close until 2151. There was also more research on the double-disadvantage faced by women from racial minorities, which found that it takes black and south-Asian women at least two months longer on average than their white counterparts to secure their first job. A separate report from the Royal College of Nursing found that white nurses were twice as likely to get promoted as black and Asian staff.
Childcare costs continued to be under the spotlight, with Trades Union Congress research showing that fees for parents with children under two had increased by more than £2,000 a year since 2010. At the Early Years Alliance’s annual conference, childcare sector workers and representatives talked about government under-funding causing a “crisis” in the sector.
On employment trends and flexible working, official data showed that job vacancies continued to rise but wages were not keeping up with inflation. Meanwhile, six in 10 London workers said they now worked in a hybrid way, according to a major study.
This month saw big wins for parental leave and rights. A landmark Supreme Court judgement ruled that workers who are permanently on irregular, annualised, term-time or zero-hours arrangements are entitled to the same minimum level of paid annual leave as those who work all year round, and this should be based on the hours they work annually rather than pro-rata’d. The neonatal leave and pay bill also passed its second reading in parliament. On a less positive note, only a third of eligible new fathers in the UK took paternity leave in 2021/22, due to the low level of pay offered, according to research.
In childcare news, a report found that staffing shortages were the biggest concern of childcare workers and 95% of those surveyed didn’t feel respected by politicians and policymakers. Meanwhile, over 60% of women who had had an abortion in the last five years said the cost of childcare influenced their decision, according to a Pregnant Then Screwed survey.
When it came to employment trends and flexible working, TUC analysis showed that wages were falling in real terms at the fastest rate since current records began in 2000, due to high inflation. Worker burnout also continued to be a theme this year – a Glassdoor analysis found that negative discussions about burnout amongst UK workers were up 48% on the year in its online forums. In more positive news, an HR firm that trialled a nine-day fortnight saw a 24% fall in work-related stress and an 11% increase in productivity.
The cost-of-living crisis dominated the news this month, with official data showing that British wages had seen their biggest drop in real terms in 20 years, as inflation continued to climb. New pieces of research found that the crisis was affecting working women more than their male counterparts, and that the poorest families faced a £1,000 shortfall on rising energy bills. Women on maternity leave were being forced back to work early, living on their savings or credit, and having to choose between heating and eating, a report by Maternity Action found.
When it came to gender equality, an annual contractor survey found that self-employed women were charging a considerably lower day-rate than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, another survey found that men took on a smaller share of childcare when they worked from home, possibly as they felt under pressure to be an “ideal worker” while working remotely. Separately, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development called for the government to boost statutory paternity pay and extend it to six weeks so that dads could take on a greater share of childcare from the point of birth.
In childcare news, the National Day Nurseries Association found that 65% more nurseries closed down in the summer term this year compared to 2021. The NDNA attributed this to a combination of this year’s rising prices and a longstanding lack of government investment.