Working Families Policy Conference 2015 Report
Published: 29 Jan 2015
Over 120 delegates gathered in Westminster for a packed programme at the annual Working Families policy event. Sarah Jackson, CEO of Working Families kicked off proceedings by reminding delegates, with 100 days to go to the general election, of the key calls in the Families and Work Group manifesto. Next, Carole Edmonds, CEO of Bright Horizons, sponsors of the Modern Family Index, outlined some of the key themes from the report. Getting work, family and childcare right for families, she observed, was a very complex issue. Families come in many different shapes, and each need to put in place arrangements unique to them.
Julie McCarthy of Working Families then set the scene, and introduced delegates to the new findings from Off Balance, which looks at the difficulties faced by parents with disabled children in balancing their caring and paid work responsibilities. Lack of well-paid, quality, flexible work and suitable affordable childcare being the main barriers to entering or remaining in the labour market. Jonathan Swan then highlighted some of the main findings of the 2015 Modern Families Index, a survey of working parents with dependent children: both parents working full time is increasingly common; younger men are finding work and family balance elusive; and childcare worries can act as a brake on career.
The audience then heard from three MPs: Maria Miller (Con), Jo Swinson (Lib Dem), and Alison McGovern (Lab). Maria Miller highlighted the good track record of this government in bringing in Shared Parental Leave, but said that there is more to be done. Flexible by default, for example, was something she said all employers should consider. Jo Swinson also pointed to SPL as a positive step forward, and was hopeful that it might herald a new way of doing things. But many workplaces still seem designed by men for men, and this has to change. And she called for action on the gender pay gap, including enacting Section 78 of the Equality Act to ensure transparency on pay. Alison McGovern identified five key areas. Childcare as an issue, problems around availability and costs. Child poverty, particularly in households where there is a disabled child must be addressed. Male leaders need to step up their visibility and send positive messages about being a father. Sure start needs to be protected. And carers need to be better supported.
A panel, chaired by Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus, then considered how workplace culture could be changed to help fathers become more involved in family life and take greater account for families who don’t fit the ‘normal’ template. Making sure all flexible working practices are open to all employees was identified as a practical solution, along with employers taking better care of how the record fathers who take things like paternity leave. Better education in schools for boys would help too, promoting the idea of caring and equal sharing of care in households between men and women. The panel also discussed issues around zero hours and insecure work, and the difficulty parents had in configuring childcare around uncertain and unpredictable working patterns.
A second panel, chaired by Alison Garnham of CPAG looked at the issue of in-work poverty. The casualization of the workforce merged as a key theme: low paid and insecure jobs were making family life difficult, complicated further by the complexity of in-work benefits for low paid parents. Changes to the way that childcare is subsidised, for example, will mean that many low income families are unable to afford the necessary upfront costs and so will lose access to childcare. Ideas for a solution included better integration between the living wage and welfare benefits, and establishing a ‘floor of rights’ that protect the right to a family life.
Thank you to all of our speakers and panel members and to the delegates for making the event such a lively and interesting event.