It was recently reported that a European Council paper stated that Britain has too many stay-at-home mothers. Understandably, this caused much uproar and many of Britain’s MPs jumped immediately to the defence of stay-at-home mums. What they could have done instead was focused more on the state of play in the workplace for women who are starting families.
Financially, returning to work after maternity leave just doesn’t make sense for the average family. In a recent study, it was reported that the UK has the highest childcare costs of any country apart from Switzerland. Although progress has been made recently with the declaration that the Prime Minister is increasing free childcare from 15-30 hours per week for 3 and 4 year olds, that leaves a quite considerable gap between the ages of nine months and three.
Within that 27-month time period, families may qualify for Working and Child tax credits – providing they are under the earnings threshold (approximately £26,000). When you do make it over the threshold, you can expect all support to be withdrawn along with a possible bill from HMRC for any overpayments. This is the situation that many modern-day working families find themselves in, earning a respectable wage that once childcare costs, household bills, food and transport are all accounted for, leaves a less than desirable balance and which leaves many pondering the question: “Is it worth returning to work?”
Culturally, growing trends could be causing discomfort amongst those mothers considering returning to their career. In a world where we see more and more stay-at-home mummy bloggers, could it be argued that what we are actually seeing is yet ANOTHER obstacle for women returning to the workplace, yet another pressure for women to question if they are making the right decision to juggle between motherhood and a successful career? Yes, the idealised image of staying at home and crafting with your toddler is beautiful and many mothers yearn for this. However, the reality is that we were all women before we were mothers and actually the luxury of having an uninterrupted lunch break and at least some financial independence is a welcome break from the terrible twos and endless housework.
In a recent survey, some 22% of women say that an inability to balance professional goals with being a parent holds them back from being successful in their job, but a mother in the workplace is a valuable asset, working hard and driven to support her family. Once the working day is over, the hard work really begins: a tangle of reasonable bed times, toothbrush battles and home-cooked meals. A working mother is the epitome of organisation, productivity and loyalty. What the government and employers should recognise is that keeping a working mother content and motivated is for the good of the nation – they are raising the next generation and serious consideration needs to be given about how we would like the next generation to be shaped.
The UK rules surrounding flexible working changed in June 2014 so that all employees with 26 weeks service have the right to request flexible hours. Flexible hours are instrumental for enticing mothers to return to work and with advances in technology there is no reason why sharing the working week between office and home shouldn’t be a viable option.
A recent case in the public eye could see a modification in the laws surrounding shift work for mothers with young children. A single mother had her request to work the same hours each week to allow her two children to attend nursery refused, but it was eventually ruled that the refusal had breached the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act.
This ruling could see mothers with young children have the legal right to refuse inconvenient shifts, such as early mornings and late nights. The ruling will be available to women working across both the public and private sectors, although there will be some companies with small teams that will be exempt. Let’s face it, the reality is that, in the majority of cases, a solution can be found without women having to resort to their legal right to refuse. They don’t want to work by a different set of rules to childless women; they just want peace of mind that the option is there should a problem ever arise.
It is hoped that opening up flexible working to all will normalise it and make mums less likely to feel sidelined or stigmatised. Rebecca Bridges, Employment and Immigration Solicitor with Taylor Rose, recently wrote ‘The Working Mums Gide to Family Friendly Employment’. She says: “This is a significant step for working mothers. Employers will have to accept that creating a work life balance amongst families is slowly becoming more of a priority. There have been a lot of modern changes in employment law recently to support this. Many employers are keen to retain knowledgeable staff and aid their return to work.”
*Amy Bull is a Digital Marketeer, trying to manage the perpetual juggling act of motherhood and career woman.