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Making work actually work for all: a ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015

Published: 9 Apr 2014

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

With fewer than 400 days to go until the general election in May 2015, teams of strategists, number-crunchers and policy wonks in each of the main parties will be burning the midnight oil between now and the party conference season in September, when the party manifestos are likely to be finalised. And, to help them in their task, we at Working Families have come up with some key policy actions we believe the next government must take if work is actually to work for families – whatever their size and shape.

In recent decades, the world of work has changed enormously – in many ways for the better. But for all too many families, work simply isn’t working. Time-poor or cash-poor, or both, they struggle to achieve more than a barely tolerable work-life compromise. For them, the world of work has not changed anywhere near enough.

And for employers, the lack of flexibility in how we organise work brings very real costs in low productivity, lost skills and experience, and a reduced talent pool.

The next government needs to act to ensure that work actually works for all. Working parents, grandparents and carers need the twin currencies of time and money.  They need equality in the home, as well as at work. They need access to justice. And they need proper support with childcare.

So below we set out a draft ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015, with 14 specific policy actions grouped under the headings of time, equality at work and at home, money, and childcare infrastructure. Over the next few weeks, we will be trying to pare these down to a handful of key policy calls – and we want your input!

Please take the time to read this draft manifesto, and either post a comment in the box below or get in touch with me at richard.dunstan@workingfamilies.org.uk  We are listening!


Despite great progress in both the law and in employer best practice, negative assumptions about flexible and family-friendly working persist. Reduced-hours working is still heavily gendered and all too often seen as a lack of commitment, with senior roles and flexible working wrongly held to be incompatible. There are key gaps in the legal framework for time off work in order to fulfil family responsibilities, especially at times of crisis.  And there are simply too few good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs, putting single parents and parents of disabled children at particular disadvantage.

It is vital that we get fathers more involved in caring for their children, to ensure gender equality in the home as well as at work, limit the time that very young children spend in non-parental care, and reduce childcare costs for families. We need to recognise the growing role of grandparents. And we need to increase the supply of flexible jobs.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Establish a new statutory right to a period of unpaid adjustment leave, to enable families to weather life crises such as the death, serious illness, or onset of disability of a partner, parent or child, or other major change in caring responsibilities, without having to give up work.
  2. Establish a new, statutory leave entitlement, similar to the existing right to unpaid parental leave, for grandparents.
  3. Adopt 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. Ministers should act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and encourage private sector employers to adopt Working Families’ Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline.
  4. Reform the new right to Shared Parental Leave – due to come into force in April 2015 – so as to simplify the legal framework, open eligibility to all working fathers from Day One of their employment, enable leave to be taken on a part-time basis, and enable the sharing of leave with a close relative other than the child’s father.

Equality at work and at home

Take-up of paternity leave over the past decade has been pitifully low. And, whilst the rate at which it is paid remains so low, take-up by fathers of the new Shared Parental Leave is also likely to be low. The evidence from other countries is that fathers take full advantage of paternity leave only when it is well paid, and is a stand-alone right. To ensure equality in the home, we need to work towards longer, more flexible and better paid periods of dedicated leave for fathers.

To be meaningful, rights on paper need to be enforceable. Yet access to justice in relation to workplace rights – including the right not to be unfairly dismissed – has been seriously eroded in recent years. To drive gender equality in the workplace, and tackle the widespread discrimination around pregnancy and maternity leave, this must be remedied.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Increase the current statutory entitlement to paid paternity leave, from two weeks to six weeks, with four weeks available to be taken at any point during the child’s first year. This should be a Day One right and, like the first six weeks of statutory maternity leave, this leave should be paid at 90 per cent of earnings.
  2. Reform the hefty, upfront fees for employment tribunal claimants introduced in July 2013, so as to reduce claimant fees to a nominal level.
  3. Undertake a review of the law on employment status, with a view to giving workers on zero-hours contracts, agency workers, freelancers, and home-workers  access to the same set of ‘family-friendly’ rights as other employees, as well as effective legal protection against unfair dismissal.
  4. Introduce a statutory right to time-off and facilities for breastfeeding mothers upon return to work, and clear legal protection against discrimination.


To achieve a good work-life balance, working parents need a flexible job that pays well enough to support a family. They need the twin currencies of time and money. Yet Britain is suffering a crisis of low pay, which steals time from families and their children.

This crisis requires robust action. We need to see more employers adopting the Living Wage, and the government should take an active role in making this happen. The national minimum wage needs to be both substantially increased and better enforced, which means more human and other resources for enforcement.  And we need to start raising statutory maternity and paternity pay – currently paid at a shockingly low 60 per cent of the national minimum wage – towards wage-replacement levels. For with better and more equal pay will come better and more equal parenting.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Immediately restore the real value of statutory maternity and paternity pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on annual uprating since April 2013, and set out a programme of annual real terms increases so as to raise such pay to at least the level of the national minimum wage within ten years.
  2. Rapidly raise the national minimum wage rate towards 60 per cent of median wages, and introduce a London supplement.
  3. Reform the work allowances in Universal Credit, to allow families to earn more before they have their support withdrawn.

Childcare infrastructure

Our childcare ‘system’ is simply not fit for purpose, with demand far outstripping the local supply of affordable childcare. And the childcare crunch is particularly acute for single parents, those working atypical hours, and parents of disabled children.

We need to work towards a system that delivers good quality, affordable childcare to all working parents when they need it, whilst at the same time protecting and enhancing the well-being of our children. Our childcare crisis must not be solved by excessive time in non-parental care for children, but by more flexible working for parents and a better, more flexible supply of good quality, affordable childcare.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Appoint a cabinet-level, cross-departmental minister for childcare. In recognition of the fact that childcare infrastructure facilitates economic activity, this minister should be based in both the Department for Education, and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.
  2. This minister should lead on developing a new national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years.
  3. Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of good quality, affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children.



7 responses to “Making work actually work for all: a ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015”

  1. A great manifesto by and large. You say that there needs to be a stand-alone portion of leave specifically for fathers instead of SPL that either mother or father can take yet you haven’t included this as a numbered ‘should.’ Research tells us that if men are to ‘lean in’ to a greater extent at home, then paternity leave needs to be well paid AND there needs to be a portion of ‘use it or lose it’ leave set aside exclusively for fathers.The current plans for shared parental leave means women will continue to take most of it (because there is no portion set aside specifically for the father and our prevailing culture is for care to default to women). Please do consider including a specific point about the Government needing to changed SPL to perhaps one third for mothers, one third for fathers and a final third for either to take. When we have policies specifically aimed at fathers, that’s when change will happen. And by golly, we need change. (J Chivers, author, “Mothers Work!”)

  2. Thanks Jessica. We do have a specific call for an increase in entitlement to paternity leave (by definition ‘use it or lose it’), from the current two weeks to six weeks, with four weeks being available to take any time in the child’s first year. Clearly, that’s not enough, and in the longer run we’d like to see further increases (maybe we should say that!). But we’re trying to make our specific policy calls realistic, given the fiscal environment in 2015. So some of them are simply steps on a journey.

  3. Lorna Borthwick says:

    I think there are some really fantastic ideas in here – from personal experience I think the idea of ‘adjustment leave’ is a brilliant one. We have needed that on more than one occasion and we were lucky that my husband worked in his own family business and was able to take time off to support me and our family. I am very aware how much of a struggle it would have been without that ability, so I would welcome that right. Also very keen on the ‘flexible by default’ idea of job adverts – I agree with Jessica that more needs to be done to make Father’s actually take paternity leave and not leave childcare to women by default. If more jobs were flexible by default, this would be one part of the way in which things could change culturally to enable this to happen more readily. Overall, well done on a great set of ideas!

  4. This is a workmanlike set of proposals which deserve to be taken seriously. It is hard to disagree with the level of aspiration, and the proposals ought to attract broad support from across the political spectrum as a short- to medium-term agenda.

    In terms of priorities for early action, two proposals stand out:

    • A “flexible by default” approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector. The statutory right to request flexible working will shortly be extended to all employees. But the business case for flexible working is strong, and the benefits for working people undeniable. So it would be sensible for the government to encourage employers to look at the way they design their jobs, and advertise vacancies as being open to be filled by people working on a flexible basis, unless there are clear business reasons why this would be impracticable. No further legislation would be needed in order for the public sector to set an example in this area, and some local authorities are already taking the lead.

    • If more men are to be encouraged to take time off work to look after young children, they certainly need a stronger financial incentive. CIPD research underlines that it is cash that inhibits many fathers from taking up their entitlement to paternity pay. It would help if fathers were paid at 90% of earnings for the first 6 weeks, on the same basis as mothers currently are. The case for increasing the existing entitlement to paid paternity leave from two weeks to six weeks is perhaps more debatable: a more realistic target for early action might be the “Daddy month” adopted by some other countries.

    CIPD also believes it would be sensible for Government to undertake a review of the law on employment status, which underlies much of the current confusion about the rights of zero hours workers. CIPD has already initiated a review of its own in this area and will be consulting members and other stakeholders on the best way forward.

    There are one or two issues on which the draft manifesto contains proposals which go beyond what CIPD has evidence to support. For example, the law already requires employers to provide suitable facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and it’s unclear what additional statutory protection is needed.

    We would also encourage employers to pay as much as they’re able to afford, including the Living Wage if they are able to. Increasing base pay can bring benefits to a business in terms of employee loyalty, engagement and service/product quality. However, if an employer is not easily able to increase salaries then the intelligent use employee benefits can go some way to help alleviating in-work poverty.

    Looking at the proposals in the round, they offer a useful starting point for a non-partisan review of employment regulation as it impacts on working families.

  5. Ros Bragg says:

    Good to see the debate on the policy issues to take to the next election.

    We are a little surprised at the CIPD comment that ‘the law already requires employers to provide suitable facilities for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and it’s unclear what additional statutory protection is needed.’

    Maternity Action regularly advises breastfeeding mothers who are told that their request for breaks or changes in their hours of work cannot be accommodated by their employer.

    The law in the UK falls well short of the law in the US, where employers are required to provide breastfeeding mothers with reasonable time off to express milk as well as suitable facilities.

    Following our campaigning, ACAS released guidance on accommodating breastfeeding on return to work. While useful in communicating how simple it is for employers to accommodate breastfeeding at work, the guidance makes it all too clear that an employer is not generally required to do so.

    A statutory right to breastfeed or express milk at work is long overdue and would bring the UK into line with the 92 countries which do have this law in place.

  6. I actually think that the specific increase in paternity leave that is suggested here, while we support it since there is nothing else, is a very poor second to equal entitlement for men and women to Parental Leave (as is the case in the rest of Europe!) with specific ‘use it or lose’ it elements for both parents. What we have in the new system is women, as in the old system, ‘owning’ parental leave and able to ‘transfer’ part of it to their partner. Not only does this dramatically limit the number of families who are eligible but the whole concept of mothers as primary carers goes unchallenged. If we truly want to transform gender relations, then we need to work towards shared parental leave, ultimately along the Icelandic model that Jessica names – currently 3 months for mums, 3 months for dads and 3 month for the family to share as they wish. Adrienne Burgess, the Fatherhood Institute

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