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A new survey by the TUC and Mother Pukka finds most mums who have asked to be furloughed because of childcare issues have been turned down.
Nearly three-quarters of working mums who have applied for furlough so far following the latest school closures have had their requests turned down, according to a TUC survey carried out in the past week.
The furlough scheme allows parents who can’t work because of childcare difficulties related to Covid to be furloughed on 80% pay capped at £2.5K a month. Parents can request to be furloughed, but it is not a right and employers can turn it down. workingmums.co.uk surveys over the last nine months show that more employers turn it down than agree to it.
The TUC says another part of the problem is that the scheme is not promoted to parents so they don’t know that they can request it. That leaves parents in a difficult position, having to take annual leave, unpaid parental leave or rely on employers being flexible so they can work around their childcare issues, which is often not possible, for instance, if they work outside the home.
The TUC poll, with the campaigner Mother Pukka, is based on the experience of 50,000 working mums. It found:
Nearly all (90%) of those who replied said that their anxiety and stress levels had increased during this latest lockdown.
And almost half (48%) were worried about being treated negatively by their employers because of their childcare responsibilities. Indeed some mums have told workingmums.co.uk that they are worried that being furloughed will put them first in line for redundancy. The TUC is calling for protections for workers who take up furlough. It says they should not be discriminated against because they have been furloughed and should have the right to be offered suitable alternative employment (without having to apply for it) in a redundancy situation – a similar protection to women on maternity leave.
The TUC survey also found that around half (44%) of mums are worried about the impact having to take time off work would have on their household finances.
A quarter (25%) of mums were using annual leave to manage their childcare – but nearly 1 in 5 (18%) had been forced to reduce their working hours and around 1 in 14 (7%) were taking unpaid leave from work and receiving no income.
The TUC says that the UK’s parental leave system and low sick pay means many parents risk losing their job or facing “a catastrophic loss of income”.
It is calling on ministers to introduce a temporary right to furlough for groups who cannot work because of coronavirus restrictions – both parents and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and required to shield. It adds that ministers should clarify that furlough can be used by both private and public sector employers for these purposes. Currently most public sector workers do not seem to be eligible.
It says employers should first explore with parents and those shielding whether other measures – such as offering additional paid leave, changes to working hours or other flexibilities like working from home, and offering alternative work – could help the worker balance their responsibilities, but that as a last resort, workers should have the right to be furloughed.
It also calls for a major advertising campaign so that parents and shielders understand that they can use furlough.
It would also like to see:
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The safety of school staff and children must always come first. But the government’s lack of support for working parents is causing huge financial hardship and stress – and hitting low-paid mums and single parents hardest.
“Just like in the first lockdown, mums are shouldering the majority of childcare. Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are despairing. It’s neither possible nor sustainable for them to work as normal, while looking after their children and supervising schoolwork…
“The UK’s parental leave system is one of the worst in Europe. It’s time for the government to give all parents the right to work flexibly, plus at least 10 days’ paid carers leave each year.”