Home News & eventsNews Off Balance: parents of disabled children and paid work

Off Balance: parents of disabled children and paid work

Published: 13 Jan 2015

Working Families report

The costs to us all of unemployment and underemployment of parents of disabled children.

88% of unemployed parents of disabled children express a strong desire to return to work, according to new research by Working Families which is published today .  The survey of over 900 parents also found that two thirds of parents in work had declined promotion or accepted demotion to balance care and work responsibilities.  Our new findings replicate those of our 2012 report Finding Flexibility and once again illustrate both the extent to which such parents value the opportunity to work – for both economic and other reasons – and the enormous challenge they face in combining their especially demanding caring responsibilities with paid work.

Almost four out of ten parents had given up work more than six years ago, making their return to the labour market that much more difficult. The unemployment of so many parents of disabled children and the underemployment of so many more sees workplaces losing out on a whole range of skills and talent.  Gaps in work history, lost or out dated skills and lowered confidence all compound parents’ difficulties.

Of the parents who are currently not in work 79% felt that they had no choice but to give up work at or very soon after the diagnosis of their child. This common all or nothing scenario could be avoided by allowing parents the chance to adjust to a change in their caring responsibilities.

 Combining work and caring is very challenging.  There is never any flexibility around the timing of my son’s hospital and other appointments.  I just need to drop everything and be there.

Mother of disabled 2yo

And whilst there remains an acute shortage of quality, part-time or otherwise flexible vacancies, especially at intermediate level, parents of disabled children will struggle to return or remain in employment. 77 per cent of out of work parents agreed that finding a job with the right number of hours was a major barrier to returning to work whilst 87 per cent stated that finding a job with the right pattern of work was also a major barrier.

I gave up work when my son was diagnosed and it was around five years before I could consider going back to work.  Then four years of looking for a job that was flexible enough.

Mother of disabled 10yo

The great majority of in-work parents described finding suitable and affordable childcare as ‘difficult’ or ‘impossible’.  There is a significant lack of specialist childcare capable of meeting the sometimes complex needs of disabled children.  Even where it is available it is often significantly more expensive than that for non-disabled children.  Almost one in three of in-work parents who pay for childcare are paying more than £10 per hour – more than twice the national average cost per hour.

Only one local provider offers suitable childcare for my son, but at £16 per hour this is far too expensive.

Out of work mother of disabled 1 yo.


In the run-up to the General Election on 7 May 2015, we call on all political parties to consider committing to:

  • Establishing a new, statutory right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather relatively short-term life crises such as the onset of disability of a partner, parent or child, or other major change in their caring responsibilities, without having to give up work. Cost analysis carried out for Working Families, by management consultants Oliver Wyman, show that the introduction of a legal right to adjustment leave for the parents of disabled children could result in a potential annual net gain to the economy of £500million. Working Families believe that a six week period of adjustment leave, paid at Living Wage levels should be introduced as a matter of urgency.
  • Adopting a flexible by default approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector, so that all jobs in central and local government are advertised on a flexible basis unless there is a specific, good business reason not to. Ministers should also act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and should encourage private sector employers to adopt the Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline which is free to use and available from www.workingfamilies.org.uk.
  • Appointing a junior minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the national supply of suitable, good quality, and affordable childcare for disabled children.

Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families said

More needs to be done to support the parents of disabled children to either stay in work or to re-enter the workforce.  Childcare has repeatedly been shown to be a major barrier to work for these parents and we call on the next Government to commit to appointing a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the national supply of suitable, good quality and affordable childcare for disabled children.

Furthermore, we have shown that the introduction of a legal right to paid adjustment leave on or soon after diagnosis of a child’s disability or special need would have a positive outcome not only on the family’s economic future but on the state’s as a whole.

To read the whole report click here and to download the press release click here.