Study highlights role of childcare in furlough requests

Women are more likely to ask to be furloughed due to childcare responsibilities and less likely to continue working while on furlough, according to a new study.

childcare while working


Mums were more likely than dads to ask to be furloughed due to caring responsibilities, according to a new study which finds nearly two thirds of the over nine million people who were furloughed – particularly men – continued to work on furlough.

The study, by academics at Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich universities, is based on real time survey evidence from the UK in April and May. It found women were significantly more likely to be furloughed and that mothers were 10 percentage points more likely than fathers to initiate the decision to be furloughed (as opposed to it being fully or mostly the employer’s decision). There was no similar gender gap amongst childless workers. The researchers state: “There is a real risk that mothers could be forced out of the labour market if the furloughing scheme ends without viable childcare options being available.”

The paper comes as the Prime Minister has been urging parents that it is safe to send their children back to school, but amid ongoing problems for some regarding before and after school care and for childcare for younger children, including informal care traditionally provided by grandparents.

The study also found that the ban on working whilst furloughed was “routinely ignored”, especially by men who were able to do a large percentage of their work tasks from home. Women, however, were less likely to have their salary topped up beyond the 80% subsidy paid for by the government while, generally, workers on higher incomes are more likely to be topped up.

Some 19% of furloughed employees in the survey sample reported being explicitly asked to work by their employer, but there was a large variation in the share of furloughed workers who were asked to work across occupations, with high numbers [44%] in Computer and Mathematical oocupations.

Many more furloughed employees report working even if not explicitly told to do so by their employer.  Women, older workers and those without paid sick leave were less likely to have continued to work on furlough. Workers on higher incomes but also those on variable hours contracts were more likely to continue working.

While many furloughed workers appear to be happy to return to work on reduced hours and pay, the researchers say furloughed workers without employer-provided sick pay have a lower willingness to lose pay in order to return to work, as do those in sales and food preparation occupations. Compared to non-furloughed employees, furloughed workers are more pessimistic about keeping their job in the short to medium run and are more likely to be actively searching for a new job.

The research say their results highlight the benefits of a flexible furlough scheme and the need for ongoing flexibility in government support across occupations and in response to childcare disruption. They also suggest that “the provision of more generous sick pay could help to support the economic recovery by encouraging workers to return to work while infection rates remain above zero and supporting sick workers to take time off work when they pose a risk to others”.

Meanwhile, a Business in the Community poll of more than 24,000 UK employees suggests black workers are more ambitious than their white counterparts, but more likely to be held back at work. It found 74 per cent of black respondents wanted to progress their careers, compared to just 42 per cent of white respondents, with a third of black respondents saying they thought their ethnicity would be a barrier to their next career move.

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