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Ben Black is Director of My Family Care. Workingmums.co.uk asked him for his views on the main priorities for employers looking to provide family support for their staff. This interview appears in Workingmums.co.uk’s new report, The Future of Work.
For instance, do you see employers looking to innovate more in terms of the childcare support they offer as vouchers come to an end [for new employees] or are things like elder care more of a priority?
Ben Black: The end of vouchers will do loads to clarify the working parent and carer debate. Once vouchers have been phased out employers will need to be very clear about what they do and why they do it. And clearly the employer offering needs to be better than anything parents can go off and find on their own as consumers. The push will be all about supporting the twin needs of more flexible working and gender diverse leadership. Yes, there will be plenty of innovation and the support will get broader and broader to include anyone with any kind of family commitment – baby, teenager, elderly parent or even a badly behaved Labrador.
BB: Yes. Massively so. Emergency childcare is a “rare breed” as an employee benefit: the ROI is incredibly easy to see and measure; and it’s not generally available to parents in the same seamless way unless they work for an employer that offers it. Not only will more employers take it up, but the price will come down as technology takes over. When we started offering it 93% of bookings involved at least one phone call. In two years’ time less than 40% of bookings will require a call as bookings will go straight from parent booking app to the nanny’s smart phone.
Do you expect to see them looking at different ways to innovate or for employees/parents to find new ways to link up, particularly with regard to flexible childcare?
BB: I think we will get to is a place where all employers can offer some sort of childcare support. Remember childcare remains one of the lowest paid professions so in theory it should pay nearly every employer to provide some childcare help. It’s the level of subsidy – and hence the employer cost – that will be completely flexible. For example, it is easy to justify the top talent at Google getting 10 free days a year. Why shouldn’t we see every shop worker getting a bit of help to find and book a brilliant local affordable childminder?
Can these be overcome, given falling numbers of childminders, considered by many the most affordable flexible childcare option?
BB: The industry is so incredibly fragmented and conservative that change doesn’t happen quickly. And Government initiatives don’t help – 30 free hours for three and four year olds is a crackpot scheme that does nothing to help parents go back to work. But that doesn’t mean childcare isn’t getting more flexible. Ten years ago you booked your child into nursery full time or not at all. These days you can pick and choose the days you want. Nannies used to be too expensive. Prices have now dropped by 20% and hundreds of parents use sites like www.nannyshare.co.uk. So the industry will change and become more flexible and at some point childminders might even find some bold and commercial people in charge at PACEY (the body that represents them). I live in hope!
How important is it to have thought these issues through and to have a strategy in place?
BB: The workforce is getting older. More and more of us will be carers at some point. If you thought managing a career and childcare was complicated – it’s not a scratch on the challenges you face when one of your parents becomes a dependent. The strategy isn’t that complicated: identify who your carers are; provide some empathy and flexibility; and make sure there is some practical support in place when it’s needed. The real challenge is budget. Eldercare is new. Benefits budgets aren’t increasing. So putting in place a comprehensive eldercare package may well involve turning off something else. That is the sensible approach, but it is still full of challenges for hard-pressed benefits teams in any case.
BB: It’s the usual mix. Some have and are pushing the agenda forward – think the likes of Google, Pwc and Sky. Some will just follow the lead. And some (perhaps most still) haven’t really started the journey yet.