Should furlough for childcare reasons be a right?

Should parents who can’t work due to childcare issues as a result of school closures be entitled to furlough?

A woman sits at her desk with hand sanitiser and face mask in the foreground


Should parents automatically be granted furlough if they cannot work due to childcare reasons?

The Government guidance has been that “if you are unable to work, including from home, due to caring responsibilities arising from coronavirus (Covid-19), such as caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing, or caring for a vulnerable individual in your household, then you should speak to your employer about whether they plan to place staff on furlough.”

Currently, this has to be agreed by both employer and employee and knows that many employers have turned it down in the past. This may be due to not being aware of the advice or for other reasons, for instance, survival pressures. Also employers have to pay an average 5% contribution to National Insurance Contributions in addition to employer pension contributions for furloughed workers. One mum who had had furlough turned down for childcare reasons stated: “I think it’s because it’s busy just now. I called ACAS and they said it’s up to your employer. That was last week.”

The TUC has called on employers to offer furlough to all parents affected by school closures.

Many parents back greater use of furlough for childcare reasons. On the Facebook page one said: “This should be implemented immediately. Working and homeschooling over a prolonged period is dreadful for everyone involved in it.”

But others are worried about the longer-term implications of furlough. One mum said she went on furlough for childcare reasons and was subsequently made redundant. Another said: “I’ll lose my promotion and my second pay review! (I’m the only female in the company. And all the men – their wives are Stay At Home Mums or single).” Some campaigners have called for a right for protection from redundancy for those furloughed for childcare reasons.

Others noted that furlough is only 80% of wages [up to a cap of £2,500 a month] and research shows many employers don’t top that up to 100%, particularly for the lowest paid, the majority of whom are women. Several said they couldn’t afford to live on 80% of their wages. One mum said: “I pray if this happens it isn’t compulsory. Yes it’s hard but finances are also hard at the moment our gas and electric is through the roof now we are home all day and every day a 20% pay cut would kill us off.”

Not everyone is eligible though. To be furloughed you need to have been employed and on payroll on 30th October 2020 and your employer has to have made a PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) submission to HMRC between 20 March 2020 and 30 October 2020, notifying a payment of earnings for you. This applies to all types of contract and people with more than one job can be furloughed for each of them. Public sector employers can only furlough staff for the part of their job that is not funded by public money, for instance, private nurseries which take money for the 30 hours subsidies for three and four year olds.

Many of the self employed parents who commented said they had not had any financial support during the pandemic. One mum who is a company director was advised that she could furlough herself if she pays herself via PAYE. That would, however, mean she couldn’t continue to work, although flexible furlough is possible where you work part of the week and are on furlough for the rest.


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