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Amid a flexible working backlash, several Private Members’ Bills were enacted covering everything from unpredictable hours to flexible working and benefits requirements were tightened for mothers of young children.
Workingmums.co.uk launched its first Return to Work Week and published the results of its annual survey, showing the extent of the debt among mothers and its impact on mums’ own mental health and that of their children. Over half of all mothers (52%) said they had debts outside their mortgage and student loan, with almost one in 10 owing more than £20,000. For nearly half (47%) this is personal rather than household debt.
WMPeople.co.uk also launched the second series of the Mums.Dads.Work podcast.
Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf announced new measures to improve childcare, including a pilot to provide more state-funded childcare from the age of nine months to the end of primary school as well as plans to accelerate an expansion of care for two-year olds. He also said that Scotland’s government would boost minimum pay for all frontline childcare workers to £12 per hour from April. Meanwhile, a Pregnant Then Screwed survey in England showed parents are opposed to the Government’s decision to increase ratios in nurseries, with 98% saying they are against it. At their party conference, the Liberal Democrats backed new policies on parental leave and early years education, including more free hours of childcare for lower paid parents, but experts warned that politicians need to fix the existing problems in the system before extending free childcare.
The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill won Royal Assent. It means people on atypical contracts, including zero hours contracts and fixed-term contracts of less than 12 months can make a formal application to change their working patterns to make it more predictable. Once a worker has made their request, their employer will be required to notify them of their decision within a month.
The Government announced that parents of children over three who are on Universal Credit need to seek up to 30 hours of work a week or risk facing benefits sanctions. Parents of three to 12-year-olds have to work with a work coach and be available to work or be available to work up to 30 hours a week. If they don’t they could be sanctioned. Previously they had to be available for up to 16 hours a week so the change represented nearly a doubling in hours.
In legal news, a woman who was allowed to work from home several days a week due to her caring responsibilities for her elderly mother won a case against her employer after they decided to eliminate all remote working jobs. In another tribunal ruling a woman was awarded £37,000 in compensation after her employer, Thistle Marine [Peterhead], claimed the menopause was her “excuse for everything” and her boss told her that she should ‘just get on with it’ after she called in sick due to heavy bleeding. In another ruling, a Somerset woman won her pregnancy discrimination case, after a cheese company moved her into a lower paid role while she was expecting a baby.
Labour announced plans for a review of early years led by Sir David Bell, the former Chief Inspector of Schools, who will work with the party to develop its Early Years Plan, including looking at ways to increase school-based nursery provision and reform the early years workforce. Meanwhile, the National Day Nurseries Association launched its Blueprint for Early Education and Care with a call for a national commission into the future of early education and care and local authorities received details of their allocation from the £289 million wraparound childcare fund for new and expanded provision of breakfast and after school care.
In other news, Birmingham City Council, which declared itself bankrupt in September, agreed a way forward with the unions when it comes to addressing the enormous bill it faces regarding equal pay.
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement included National Insurance cuts and an increase in the national living wage, but the response focused more on what wasn’t in it than what was, particularly in relation to support for early years providers and public services. An analysis by the Resolution Foundation think tank found around 40 per cent of the gains from the tax and benefit measures announced in the Statement would go to the richest fifth of the population.
New research from the Fawcett Society found over one in ten (11%) working mothers with very young children have left a job in recent years due to the challenges of balancing work and childcare. Almost one in five working mothers (19%) had also considered leaving their job. Meanwhile, fears grew about the impact on childcare policy on children in the most disadvantaged areas and a report by SEND specialist Dingley’s Promise found one in five families with children needing SEND in early years faced being turned away from a provision setting due to their child’s needs.
The Government published new rules aimed, it said, at simplifying annual leave for workers who do irregular hours or work in term time only.
In other news, Timewise’s annual survey of job ads mentioning flexibility found things has slowed to pre-pandemic levels.
A right to request flexible working from day one in a new job will come into effect from April 6th, alongside new rights for carers and extended protections for new parents.
The new regulations, which will become law in England, Scotland and Wales, include the The Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023, which will remove the requirement for an employee to have 26 weeks’ service before they can make a formal flexible working request. This is ahead of implementation of the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 which includes provisions such as the right to make two requests for flexible working in a year [up from one].
Other regulations coming in in April include The Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024, which will extend the period of protection from redundancy for employees who are on maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave to include the entire pregnancy and 18 months after the estimated week of childbirth or the date of birth or adoption and The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 (Commencement) Regulations 2023 which allows for five days of unpaid leave a year, with notice of twice the length of time to be taken off and protection from dismissal or detriment for carers taking the leave. The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act which covers sexual harassment at work was given Royal Assent and will come into force in October 2024.
Meanwhile, a report by Leaders Plus found parents are being held back at work and their skills are being underutilised because of a lack of flexible working in senior roles, unrealistic workloads and a lack of proactive encouragement to progress and line manager support, with half of mums thinking parenting is holding them back in their careers.