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Working parents must not pay the price for the government’s last minute approach on schools and coronavirus

Published date
Last minute announcements and U-turns on school closures are wreaking havoc for working parents. If the government had worked with education unions and their members from the start, schools could have been made safer. But with schools closed and uncertainty about when they will re-open, many families have been left frantically trying to find a way to balance work and care.

Planning childcare during school holidays before the pandemic took months of preparation and careful balancing of annual leave. Parents have a finite amount of leave and it’s often stretched thinly across the school year. 

But during the first nine months of the pandemic, those issues have been compounded by long periods of disruption to schooling and childcare. Working parents have found themselves struggling to balance leave, work and care.  

The latest announcement on the closure of some primary schools, coming at the eleventh hour after weeks of speculation, left many working parents in an impossible position - scrabbling to simultaneously hold onto their jobs and care for their children. 

Even where schools move to online learning, high levels of care and supervision are required. And that’s assuming each child has access to a computer and internet connection – something not all families can afford. 

Employers have been able to furlough working parents since April but we know that some are reluctant to do so. And since parents have no right to appeal if a request for furlough is refused, the consequences of an employer refusing to furlough a parent could cost jobs and pay. 

Who will this affect? 

Working mums will be disproportionately affected.  

Evidence from the first lockdown showed they picked up the lions share of caring responsibilities, which had a huge knock on impact on their working lives. 

A TUC survey found one in six mums – mainly those on the lowest pay - had to reduce their hours at work as a direct result of school and childcare closures. Some were forced out of the workplace altogether.  

Low paid workers are particularly affected as only one in ten low paid jobs can be done from home - so it’s those that can least afford it who are paying the biggest price. 

Single parents will be acutely affected - 9 out 10 of whom are women – as they are less likely to have someone to share the burden of care with. 

During the first national lockdowns, working mums reported being discriminated against because of difficulties with children, for example being singled out for unfair treatment, redundancy or being denied more hours at work. This was particularly the case for those women already at higher risk of discrimination.  

In the same TUC survey, disabled mums were twice as likely to say they had been singled out for redundancy as a result of difficulties with childcare as non-disabled mums. 

What needs to change? 

The government needs to take steps to effectively tackle the pandemic and stop the spread of coronavirus, but working parents (particularly mums) shouldn't be left to pay the price of their poor decision making. For most parents, going weeks without pay is not an option. 

Employers must do the right thing and make use of the Job Retention Scheme. They should offer furlough to all working parents affected, without victimising or discriminating anyone who takes it up. This includes any parents working in the public sector.  

The government must ensure self-employed working parents have automatic access to the self-employed income support scheme (SEISS). Otherwise, working parents, already struggling after months of disruption to childcare, could find themselves going without pay, falling into debt and becoming at risk of losing their job. 

Working parents should be protected from any unfair treatment or discrimination as a result of being furloughed because of childcare. 

And while offering furlough to working parents will solve the immediate crisis, the government must do more to fix the flaws in the parental leave system. The TUC is calling on the government to introduce: 

  • A day one right to 10 days paid parental leave. Currently parents have no statutory right to paid leave to look after their children. 
  • A day one right to flexible work. Flexible working can take lots of different forms, including having predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working. 

These rights should apply to all workers, including those on agency or zero-hour contracts, freelancers and the self-employed. 

We know the government can act - they agreed to day-one right to sick pay, when we pushed them on it.  

Now it’s time for them to support working parents. 

We need support for parents Nobody should lose jobs or pay because their kids' school is closed
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