Home News & eventsNews Holding down vital job a struggle, say parents of disabled children

Holding down vital job a struggle, say parents of disabled children

Published: 19 Jul 2018

Parents of the UK’s million disabled children (1) are struggling to hold down vital jobs – even when they downshift and stall career progress – because of a dearth of suitable and affordable childcare, flexible jobs and appropriate leave.

A new report by charity Working Families analysed feedback from 1,250 parents of disabled children – the majority of whom were mothers – and found three quarters (76%) of parents of disabled children have turned down a promotion or accepted a demotion to meet their caring responsibilities. Nearly half (45%) are working at a lower skill level than before they had their disabled child (2).

By comparison, figures for all working parents show one in ten working mothers and fathers have turned down a promotion (3).

The report, called ‘Off Balance – Parents of disabled children and paid work’ shows that despite downshifting, parents of disabled children often still struggle to hold down their jobs because of a lack of practical support and flexibility.

The findings show the vast majority (86%) of parents of disabled children find it ‘difficult or impossible’ to find suitable – often specialist – childcare while 82 per cent have trouble finding childcare they can afford.

It also shows that while flexible jobs are highly valued, they are scarce. Nine in ten (91%) parents of disabled children say finding a job with the right working pattern is a significant barrier to returning to work. Four in five (81%) say it’s a significant barrier to staying in work.

Finding roles with the right number of hours is another barrier to returning or staying in work, with 82 per cent and 77 per cent respectively citing this.

Finally, parents say being able to take time off for their children’s medical or therapy appointments, or when circumstances change, is another difficult challenge. More than one in five (22%) say having a period of paid ‘adjustment leave’ that applies during periods of diagnosis or changes in circumstances would make one of the biggest differences in helping them balance work and caring responsibilities (4).

Current leave entitlements, such as emergency leave for dependents and parental leave require notice and/or are unpaid.

Sarah Jackson OBE, Chief Executive at Working Families, said:

“It’s still the norm that parents – and very often mothers – are met with an assumption they will give up work simply because they have a disabled child. For decades these parents have found themselves in an all or nothing scenario between working and caring. Being pushed out of work leads to long term unemployment, child poverty, and lost skills and talent from our economy.

“We urgently need sufficient and affordable childcare for disabled children, underpinned by flexibility as the norm, rather than the exception, in the work place. And parents of disabled children should be entitled to a period of paid ‘adjustment leave’ so they can put care arrangements in place without losing their job.”

Liz Walker, HR Director at Unum UK, which sponsored the report, said:

“Parents of disabled children are still facing significant challenges in finding, retaining and progressing in the job market.

“It is abundantly clear that keeping parents of disabled children in work is in everyone’s interest – parents, children, employers and the economy. Employers who support their employees in balancing work and caring will have more engaged, productive and loyal employees.”

The report also shows nearly a third (30%) of parents of disabled children are not working and of those, 40 per cent have been out of work for more than five years.

By comparison, 26 per cent of all women and eight per cent of all men with dependent children are not working (5).

Working Families is hosting a Parliamentary round table event this week (18/7/18) to create a coalition of interested MPs to help lobby for change.

The charity is calling for the UK Government to work with UK employers to make flexible working a reality for all employees (6), and for parents of disabled children to be legally able to request flexible working as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ (7) from day one in a new job, rather than waiting the current statutory 26 weeks before doing so.

It is calling on local authorities to clearly demonstrate there is sufficient childcare provision to meet the needs of disabled children in the area; coupled with appropriate incentives for providers to make childcare places available for disabled children that mean parents are not expected to pay any additional costs.

Finally, it is asking the Government to include paid ‘adjustment leave’ in its new system of statutory Carer’s Leave.

Read the Off Balance report

Find out about the Waving not drowning network


  1. Family Resources Survey. Part of the Department for Work and Pensions.The definition of disability used in the FRS is consistent with the core definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010. A person is considered to have a disability if they have a long-standing illness, disability or impairment which causes substantial difficulty with day-to-day activities. Some people classified as disabled and having rights under the Equality Act 2010 are not captured by this definition, such as people with a long-standing illness or disability which is not currently affecting their day-to-day activities.A dependent child is aged 16 or under, or is 16 to 19 years old, lives at home, is unmarried and in full-time non-advanced education.
  2. Unless otherwise stated, figures are taken from ‘Off Balance – Parents of disabled children and paid work’. Published by Working Families and Unum in July 2018. To compile the report, Working Families carried out an in-depth online survey between July and December 2017, generating 1250 responses from parents of disabled children either in work or wishing to work. A total of 70% of respondents were in paid work, and the majority of respondents (97%) were women. The survey was disseminated via the charity’s ‘Waving not drowning’ network offering employment support to parents of disabled children, and through a range of civil society organisations working with families with disabled children. The charity also held a focus group with parents of disabled children in July 2017 to explore key themes ahead of the survey.
  3. Figure taken from Working Families’ 2018 Modern Families Index, which provides a snapshot into the lives of working families from across the UK; 2,761 working parents responded. The figure relates to working parents (mothers and fathers) with at least one child at home aged 13 or younger.
  4. Working Families is calling for paid ‘adjustment leave’ of up to six weeks a year to be included in the Government’s new Carer’s Leave entitlement.
  5. ONS Employment and Labour Market 2017 – 92.4% of men with dependent children are currently in employment, and 73.7% of women.
  6. Prime Minister Theresa May has already called for greater flexible working opportunities as part of a drive to close the gender pay gap.
  7. Working Families is calling for equality legislation to be amended, so that not only disabled people but their parents and carers have access to flexible hours as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ from day one in a new job, reflecting the additional challenges that these parents face, and that flexibility is essential to enabling them to remain in work.