Building back better for working parents: what our new #FlexTheUK survey tells us
Published: 17 Jun 2021
By Jane van Zyl, CEO Working Families
Last summer, when we launched #FlexTheUK to campaign for a permanent, people-centred change towards flexible working post-pandemic, I don’t think any of us could have predicted quite what a long, tumultuous year of lockdowns and restrictions we still had ahead of us. The UK’s 13 million parents have been right at the sharp end of it throughout – juggling caring responsibilities and home-schooling with working hard to maintain jobs and livelihoods.
Our new polling, launched today in partnership with Wates Group, gives a snapshot of how parents are feeling now, as we look ahead to those final restrictions being lifted and more workplaces opening up. What we found sounded both familiar, backing up the stories we’re hearing from parents who contact our free legal advice service (often at the end of their tether trying to make impossible situations work), and gave me real hope for the future of flexible work.
When we asked parents to look back over their pandemic work experiences, the most remarkable thing is just how mixed they have been over the course of more than 14 months of restrictions and lockdowns. While most working parents felt supported by their employer to manage their childcare arrangements (for example by changing their working patterns to manage home-schooling and caring responsibilities), a striking one in five working parents (19%) say they did not get any support from their employer to manage the challenges of being a parent during the pandemic. We also saw that middle class parents were far more likely to be given the chance to work flexibly and report the benefits of it on family life than working class parents. This is no surprise: it is a product of wider inequalities relating to educational attainment and employment. Access to flexible working has traditionally been associated with knowledge-based roles, often based in offices, that have been dominated by middle class people, something we need to focus on as we build back from the pandemic.
Looking ahead, should restrictions be lifted as planned in coming weeks, there is palpable concern from parents about how a return to bad old ways of working might impact on the quality of their family life.
50% of parents are concerned that moving back to less flexible ways of working after the final restrictions are lifted will have a negative effect on family life – with more women than men expressing concern (53% v 47%). It also risks some very positive changes we’ve seen on sharing of caring responsibilities: 40% of working parents said that during the pandemic, tasks like childcare and housework were shared more equally than before, 35% say they intend to keep it up post-pandemic.
The upcoming end of the furlough scheme is also causing concern for a many parents. Nearly one in three (29%) parents who have worked throughout the pandemic are concerned that their caring responsibilities will put them at higher risk of redundancy once furlough ends. This worry is even more pronounced for women (34%) and working class parents (35%). This highlights how precarious work is for many parents, showing the need for more protections against redundancy to be brought in urgently – particularly for pregnant women and new parents.
Parents overwhelmingly want the government to intervene to create more flexible jobs (77%), and for employers to use their own initiative to do so (84%). A clear majority say that in the future they would be more likely to apply for a job that’s advertised as flexible than one that’s not (69%).
Our new polling sends a strong message to employers that if they want to reach a more diverse talent pool, including from the 13 million working parents in the UK today, they need to be building flexible working into jobs from the start. We are asking managers to focus on the quality of the work being delivered, not on demanding rigid times and places for working. As we work together to figure out our ‘new normal’, one thing is very clear: to go back to old, inflexible ways of working would not just be a bitter blow for many parents, it would make extremely bad business sense.
Our #FlexTheUK campaign is calling for:
- Employers to design and advertise jobs as flexible, and actively encourage flexible working as a way to support working parents and enhance wellbeing.
- Government to bring forward their new Employment Bill in 2022 and include a duty on employers to make jobs flexible unless there is a business case not to; and take action against insecure employment practices.
Read our campaign briefing and find out more about how parents are feeling now, and more about what we are asking employers and the government to do.