The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) is calling on the Government to extend its new...read more
The latest ONS statistics show rising unemployment and pay growth in the face of increasing economic uncertainty.
The jobs market has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride over the past few years and we now seem to be in a period of maximum caution about the road ahead: there are still a lot of job vacancies around, particularly in areas such as health and social care, but unemployment is rising as companies cut back or fold amid large price and interest rises.
Having been very much an employees’ market the playing field has levelled a little in the past months and employers are now more in control as workers fear job loss amid rising prices and interest rates.
Yet there are still problems accessing candidates in some sectors. That means there continues to be a big focus on economic inactivity and on trying to find new talent pools, such as, as evidenced in this week’s news, ex-offenders.
That can be good news for mums trying to find their way back into the workplace if the sectors are the ones they want to go into, although it’s only part of the story if they can’t afford or access the childcare they need to return.
But it has been encouraging employers and policymakers to look at some of the barriers. The extension of ‘free’ childcare is one result, although, if not properly funded, this could lead to bigger problems when it comes to accessing childcare as more childcare places are forced to close.
On flexible working it should prompt employers to move to more flexible practices if they haven’t done already. Yet many are still adjusting to the post-Covid period and the number requiring people to be back in the office more days keeps rising. If special dispensation is given to mothers to attract them back the risk is – and has always been – that we will end up with a kind to two-tier system with mums working more from home while men are more likely to be in the office. And that is indeed what a US study suggests is happening.
It’s a narrow view of flexible working because it is more than a nice to have for many more people than mothers and, in an ageing workforce, it will become more and more vital. Campaigners have been spent much of the last two decades trying to counter the so-called ‘mummy track’, whereby mums who work flexibly are considered second rate and their careers are effectively sidelined. It seems difficult to shift that mindset because tinkering at the edges of work merely serves to reinforce the status quo.
The problem is often that people are being given mixed messages by policymakers. Some of them talk about flexible working as a positive for recruitment and retention, while others waste no opportunity to denigrate it in practice and seek to blame every Covid-related negative, from quiet quitting to young people’s mental health struggles, on it. Which is not to say that there is not a lot to address to get it right for everyone because everyone has different needs and preferences. But that doesn’t mean defaulting to one norm is the answer.
Addressing workforce shortages is likely to be a major economic issue for some time to come. For the Institute of Employment Studies it is the key to tackling inflation and reviving the economy, given that it says job shortages are fuelling pay rises. It states that this is not likely to be a short-term problem, given lower migration and an ageing population. It is calling for urgent action on the shortages and upskilling rather than ongoing interest rate rises. We need to get this right and get everyone who wants to be on board, which means ensuring any barriers to getting into and staying in work are overcome.