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Flexistability: Building back better for the UK’s working families

The social and economic consequences of COVID-19 have ushered in extraordinary changes in our country, almost overnight. The impact of the pandemic on families has been multi-faceted and, for some, extreme. Families have been harder hit where working parents have been unable to get the flexibility that they needed to keep the show on the road – whether that was flexibility over when and where to work, the need to match working hours to the limited childcare provision on offer, or certainty over future income.

The pandemic has demonstrated that flexibility is possible in many, many more jobs than were previously advertised on this basis. But without intervention, the UK labour market will be split even more sharply into flexible working ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’

The forthcoming Employment Bill is a positive opportunity to create ‘flexistability’: a labour market and rights framework where all parents can access and progress in quality, permanent genuinely two-sided flexible work. Being able to balance work and care should not be a luxury found only amongst leading employers: legislating so that jobs are advertised flexibly as the norm and so that flexibility is available from day one of the job will level the flexibility playing field.

A rigorous and universal rights framework is an essential safety net to keep parents in their jobs at times of crisis. Extending parental employment rights to all workers will give families the security that they need. Access to ten days paid parental leave could be the difference between staying in a job or moving inadvertently into long-term unemployment, with all of its associated economic and social costs.

The government has the means to shield parents from discrimination in the workplace through new protections, including dedicated measures for pregnant women and new mothers. The promised reforms of the UK parental leave and pay system could also help families to shift the dial on shared care, building on the positive experiences that many families have had during the lockdown.

The time is ripe to implement these measures to ‘future proof’ a resilient labour market and safeguard family livelihoods long after the pandemic has run its course.

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