Parents of disabled children are struggling to hold down vital jobs because of a dearth of suitable and affordable childcare, flexible jobs and appropriate leave, according to a new report.
The report by charity Working Families analysed feedback from 1,250 parents of disabled children – the majority of whom were mothers – and found three quarters (76%) of parents of disabled children have turned down a promotion or accepted a demotion to meet their caring responsibilities. Nearly half (45%) are working at a lower skill level than before they had their disabled child.
By comparison, figures for all working parents show one in 10 working mothers and fathers have turned down a promotion.
The report, called ‘Off Balance – Parents of disabled children and paid work’ shows that despite downshifting, parents of disabled children often still struggle to hold down their jobs because of a lack of practical support and flexibility.
The findings show the vast majority (86%) of parents of disabled children find it ‘difficult or impossible’ to find suitable – often specialist – childcare while 82 per cent have trouble finding childcare they can afford.
It also shows that while flexible jobs are highly valued, they are scarce. Nine in 10 (91%) parents of disabled children say finding a job with the right working pattern is a significant barrier to returning to work. Four in five (81%) say it’s a significant barrier to staying in work.
Finding roles with the right number of hours is another barrier to returning or staying in work, with 82 per cent and 77 per cent respectively citing this.
Parents also say being able to take time off for their children’s medical or therapy appointments, or when circumstances change, is another difficult challenge. More than one in five (22%) say having a period of paid ‘adjustment leave’ that applies during periods of diagnosis or changes in circumstances would make one of the biggest differences in helping them balance work and caring responsibilities.
Current leave entitlements, such as emergency leave for dependents and parental leave require notice and/or are unpaid.
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive at Working Families, said: “It’s still the norm that parents – and very often mothers – are met with an assumption they will give up work simply because they have a disabled child. For decades these parents have found themselves in an all or nothing scenario between working and caring. Being pushed out of work leads to long term unemployment, child poverty, and lost skills and talent from our economy.
“We urgently need sufficient and affordable childcare for disabled children, underpinned by flexibility as the norm, rather than the exception, in the work place. And parents of disabled children should be entitled to a period of paid ‘adjustment leave’ so they can put care arrangements in place without losing their job.”
The report also shows nearly a third (30%) of parents of disabled children are not working and of those, 40 per cent have been out of work for more than five years.
By comparison, 26 per cent of all women and eight per cent of all men with dependent children are not working.
Working Families is calling for the UK Government to work with UK employers to make flexible working a reality for all employees, and for parents of disabled children to be legally able to request flexible working as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ from day one in a new job, rather than waiting the current statutory 26 weeks before doing so.
It is calling on local authorities to clearly demonstrate there is sufficient childcare provision to meet the needs of disabled children in the area; coupled with appropriate incentives for providers to make childcare places available for disabled children that mean parents are not expected to pay any additional costs.
It is also asking the Government to include paid ‘adjustment leave’ in its new system of statutory Carer’s Leave.