Building back better over the next three years
Published: 29 Apr 2021
By Jane van Zyl, CEO Working Families
The last year, it’s safe to say, is one that will live long in the minds of everyone who’s been through it. So many of us have been touched by personal loss of the worst kind. Our lives have been turned upside down and we’ve given up daily freedoms we’d all taken for granted. And for the 13 million people who are trying to work whilst caring for children, the pandemic has thrown up huge challenges – challenges that have shone a harsh light on the structural problems with how we view and organise work in the UK today.
Our advice team have been at the sharp end of it – demand for our legal advice services increased sixfold over the pandemic. We know that women have carried the biggest burden of balancing caring and work and have faced discrimination at work, hit particularly hard with redundancies and furloughing. 80% of our callers over the last year have been from women, the majority of those from low-income backgrounds. And it’s not over yet. We’re already hearing from many working parents extremely worried about what will happen when the furlough scheme ends in September.
While we’re still in this brutal pandemic, it can feel hard to lift our heads up and look beyond immediate firefighting. But that’s what we need to do if we are going to be effective in making sure that we build back better as we come out of this. Because whilst it has been horrific, the lockdowns have had one benefit for our work: they have shown that many more jobs can be worked flexibly than ever thought before. Nine in ten people we surveyed last year want their employers to retain aspects of flexible working when the pandemic is over. But in 2020, only 22% of jobs were advertised as flexible. We don’t want to go back to that. We have an opportunity now to embed flexible working across the UK and allow more parents and carers to get a good, healthy balance between their work and family lives.
Working Families has a key part to play in making that happen. Our new strategy sets out how we’re going to focus our work over the next three years to make the biggest impact possible for parents and carers. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary – we are building on all the hard work that has come before. There are three clear strands to how we view our work: empowering working parents and carers, supporting employers, and driving policy change.
At the core of our work is a determination to empower parents and carers to understand and use their workplace rights. That means setting challenging new targets on how many people we reach – we want 1 in 10 working parents in the UK to be using our advice by 2024. We are going to improve the accessibility of the information we have on and off-line and provide more bespoke advice to those parents who have least access to justice.
We will continue to work with employers across all sectors, helping them to create and sustain family-friendly and flexible workplaces – directly improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of parents and carers.
And on the policy front, a new Employment Bill is expected soon. This is a massive opportunity to shape the laws around flexible working so that employers make flexible work the default and employees rights are protected. We will use our national platform to make sure that the voices of parents and carers can be heard at the heart of government, and policymakers can learn the lessons of COVID-19 for future legislation.
Underneath those headlines lies a huge amount of work. In this strategy we’re not talking about tinkering around at the margins; we’re talking about transforming the way we think about work. To take advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build back differently, and better. We can’t do that by ourselves. So, whether you’re a working parent or carer who wants to know more about your rights, you’re an employer who wants to do better for your teams, or you have been through similar situations in the past and want to donate to help us do more now, I’m asking a simple thing: join us. Together we can make a huge difference, and make sure the world we rebuild together is one that values our home lives and our caring responsibilities as much as our work.
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