Review of 2023: May to August

Childcare continued to dominate the news after the Budget announcement, amid fears that the funding would not be enough to stop nursery closures.

Nursery children and banknotes, collage image

 

May

A report from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development found that the gender pay gap has lowered year on year, but is the same as when the audits first came in, possibly because employers are giving it less priority, as the number of employers publishing explanations of their gap falls.

Meanwhile, a TUC poll finds three in five (58%) women – and almost two-thirds (62%) of women aged between 25 and 34 – say they have experienced sexual harassment, bullying or verbal abuse at work.

In childcare news, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Coram Family and Childcare report suggests the Government’s planned £4 billion investment in childcare will disproportionately benefit higher income families unless it is retargeted to help the most disadvantaged children. Meanwhile, the Government announced that increases in childcare support for parents on Universal Credit – a 46% rise in the childcare cap for parents on UC as well as cover for upfront costs – would come into effect from 28th June.

In other news, campaigners urged the Government not to delay implementation of new legislation on neonatal care after the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill passed its final reading in the House of Lords. The new legislation for neonatal leave and pay entitlements will apply to  working parents of babies admitted to hospital up to the age of 28 days who have a continuous stay in hospital of seven days or more.

June

This month WMPeople published its Best Practice Report. 

As the jobs outlook looks ever more uncertain, with labour shortages remaining, but the economy slowing down, a Timewise survey found  49% of workers would consider making a “day one” request for flexible working when the new legislation comes in. 

Meanwhile, half of fathers take less paternity leave than they want to and a fifth take no leave at all, according to a TUC poll that highlights the low level of state support for new dads.  Exactly 50% of fathers felt they couldn’t take enough leave to support their families, while 21% took no leave, said the TUC.  And a Government evaluation found that Shared Parental Leave [SPL] has mostly benefited older, higher paid, white, highly qualified employees who work in large organisations, with the policy generally continuing to have low take-up rates due in large part to low Shared Parental Pay.

On the childcare front, research from the National Day Nurseries Association shows nursery closures in England rose significantly in 2022-23, with a 50% increase compared to the previous year.

In other news, an LSE study says capping child benefits at two children does not yield positive employment effects “and therefore its benefits to social welfare are unclear”. It points out that “if welfare reforms fail to initiate behavioural change, they simply increase poverty”. And research from McKinsey shows Black, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani [BPP] women in the United Kingdom are the furthest behind on pay and labour force participation, with progression barriers compounded for people with multiple “identities”.

July

Local government minister Lee Rowley formally requested that local authority South Cambridgeshire District Council stop a four-day week trial because he claimed it is not value for money. Counsellor Bridget Smith, the leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, said she was “surprised” by the letter and requested a meeting with ministers to “discuss the matter,” pointing to “strong independently assessed evidence” showing that the pilot, which involves the council’s desk-based staff trialling a four-day week and which started in January, has seen performance “maintained, and in some cases improved, in the first three months,” while cutting spending on agency staff and helping fill a number of previously “impossible to fill” vacancies in areas like planning.

In childcare news, Labour pledged to work with the early years and childcare sector to build capacity, initially by removing legislative barriers to local authorities opening new childcare provision and addressing workforce shortages. It said the Conservatives had promised more childcare places for parents, but failed to deliver on the supply side, with concerns about nursery closures mounting, in large part because government subsidies don’t cover the full cost of places. Meanwhile, childcare campaigners expressed disappointment over the increased funding rates for childcare places in England announced by the Government, calling them a ‘gross underestimate’ of what providers need to keep their doors open. There were also rising concerns about childcare inequality.

Tighter benefits rules were introduced for parents of one and two year olds. To avoid benefits sanctions, parents of children aged two have to meet with a work coach every month instead of every three months to prepare themselves for returning to work. Parents of children who are one have to have meetings with their work coach every three months instead of every six months. Meanwhile, the Changing Realities project called on the Government to reform the benefits system to help people get into and on in work by scrapping punitive benefits measures and focusing on breaking down employment barriers.

In other news, a Fawcett Society report said the motherhood pay penalty has affected mothers from some minority groups significantly more than other mothers, with lasting effects into old age. 

McDonald’s issued a deep apology after a BBC investigation revealed multiple allegations of sexual harassment and bullying at McDonald’s restaurants. The company, many of whose restaurants are run on a franchise basis, also committed to investigate all allegations fully and to “the strongest plan of action”. Since the story first broke it set up an investigations unit to look into the allegations.

A survey by Women in Data® and Pregnant Then Screwed found over half of mums say they have faced some form of discrimination when pregnant, on maternity leave or when they returned to work.

August

Concerns increased over the cost and availability of summer childcare. Meanwhile, the Government called for a review of childminders’ tenancy rights, amid concerns that childcare shortages would stymie an upcoming expansion in free care for working families. Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho wrote to housing associations, social landlords and developers, to urge them to allow tenants who are childminders to run their business at home. Coutinho was moved later in the month.

The Early Education and Childcare Coalition, formed by more than 30 organisations and charities across England, was launched to bring together childcare campaigners. It is committed to establishing an early education and childcare system that works for all children, parents and the economy.



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