Half of working mums don’t get the flexibility they request at work, according to a new survey published by the TUC and campaigner Mother Pukka today (Friday).
Almost 13,000 mums across the public and private sector responded to the survey about flexible working. One in two (50%) told the TUC that their current employer had rejected or only accepted part of their flexible working request.
Current flexible work system is broken – ministers must fix it
The legal ‘right to request’ flexible working has been in place for around 20 years. But the survey shows the current system is broken, says the TUC.
Too many workers have their requests turned down – and those who get flexible working face discrimination and disadvantage as a result.
The survey also revealed that attitudes to flexible work need to change:
Outdated attitudes: Many women told the TUC they are put off asking for flexible working. Two in five (42%) said they were worried about their employers’ negative reaction. Others thought there was no point asking as it would just be turned down (42%). Only one in 20 (5%) working mums who hadn’t made a flexible working request said it was because they didn’t need it.
Discrimination: Most (86%) of women working flexibly said that they have faced discrimination and disadvantage at work due to their flexible work arrangements.
Job interviews: Two in five (42%) mums told the TUC that they would not feel comfortable asking about flexible working in a job interview because they thought they would be discriminated against.
Flexible working isn’t just home working – it also includes options like job sharing, agreed predictable hours, term-time working, flexitime and condensed hours.
The TUC notes that some form of flexible working would be suitable for every job – there are no jobs where all forms of flexible working should be ruled out.
“Overwhelming” support for flexible work
The TUC argues that support for flexible work being the default or normal way of working is “overwhelming”.
More than nine out of 10 (92%) of working mums who currently work flexibly told the TUC they would find it difficult or impossible to do their job without it.
Working mums who completed the survey said that:
The government should make employers advertise flexible working in job ads – with the successful candidate having the right to take up this flexibility from their first day at work (99% of respondents).
They would be more likely to apply for a job if it included the specific types of flexible working available in the advert (99%).
The government should give all workers the right to flexible working from day one in the job (96%).
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “There is overwhelming support for mums and all working parents to be able to work flexibly to manage their work and caring commitments.
“It’s time to make flexible working the norm as we emerge from the pandemic. It’s the best way to keep women in work and to close the gender pay gap.
“But the current system is broken. Employers still have free rein to turn down requests for flexible working. And women are too scared to ask for flexible working at job interviews, for fear of being discriminated against.
“Ministers need to do more than just tinker with a flawed system. They need to change the law so that all jobs are advertised with flexible options clearly stated, and all workers have the legal right to work flexibly from their first day in a job.”
Founder of Mother Pukka Anna Whitehouse said: “I started the Flex Appeal movement after my flexible working request was denied in 2015. I asked to arrive 15 minutes earlier so I could leave 15 minutes earlier to make nursery pick-up. My request was denied for fear it might ‘open the floodgates’ to others seeking flexibility.
“I left, I quit, I broke and I felt redundant – like the 54,000 women every year who lose their jobs for simply having a baby.
“In December 2019, the Queen announced flexible working as a key focus for the Employment Bill. Flexible working is firmly on Whitehall’s table, but in 2021, 50% of working mums are still having their requests turned down.
“There is a break in the floodgates, but the legal right to flexible working must be made available from the get-go if we’re going to finally change this outdated and discriminative system for good.”
Stronger government action needed
The TUC is calling on the government to:
Unlock the flexibility in all jobs: Employers should think upfront about the flexible working options that are available in a role, publish these in all job adverts and give successful applicants a day one right to take it up.
Make flexible working a genuine legal right from the first day in a job: Workers should be allowed to work flexibly from day one, unless there are exceptional circumstances that prevent it. They should have the right to appeal any rejections. And there shouldn’t be a limit on how many times you can ask for flexible working arrangements in a year.
Mum-of-one Jade Blackburn is in her 20s and lives in South Yorkshire. She works for Nationwide.
Jade told the TUC: “I've been working for Nationwide for seven years. I first asked for flexible working back in 2016 when I was pregnant, and my manager let me move my hours around. Then when I came back from maternity leave, I asked to reduce my hours to fit around my childcare. Again, my manager was supportive.
“I've had to ask for more flexible working arrangements through the pandemic. At first my husband was at home on furlough so I could keep working, but when he went back to work his company changed his shifts from nine-hour days to 12-hour days at very short notice, so I had to ask to change my hours again.
“When my daughter started school in September, Nationwide agreed I could do split shifts. That's ideal for me as it means that whatever happens with my husband's work pattern, I know I can drop my daughter at school and pick her up.
“Being allowed to work from home has also been a massive help. Nationwide have said I can now work at home permanently which is brilliant. At times during the pandemic, we were struggling a bit financially and had to take payment holidays from some bills and the mortgage. But being based at home means I've been able to increase my hours back to full-time from part-time, which has been a huge bonus financially.
“Nationwide are understanding about the need to work flexibly. Their approach is for you to go to them with two or three scenarios that would work for you, and ideally, they'll make your first preference work. But if not then you can look at one of the other options.
“Flexible work is great because it means I can do the job I do, be there for my daughter and earn a full-time wage. Nationwide are happy because I cover all the core hours that they need me to, and they have the benefit of retaining an experienced member of staff.”
- The TUC survey: The TUC and Mother Pukka survey was self-selecting. It ran from
19 August-26 September 2021 and had 12,855 responses from working mums. Respondents were recruited via trade union and social media channels.
- Report: A summary of the poll findings can be found at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-10/Report.pdf
- Current law: Under current legislation, all employees can make a flexible working request after 26 weeks in a job. One request can be made every 12 months and there is no right to appeal. The government published a consultation on 23 September looking at making the right to request a day one entitlement.
- Petition: In July the TUC and Mother Pukka launched a petition calling on the government to introduce stronger rights to flexible working. It can be found here: www.megaphone.org.uk/petitions/stronger-legal-rights-to-flexible-working
- #FlexforAll: The TUC is a member of the Flex for All alliance – along with Pregnant then Screwed, Fawcett Society, Mother Pukka, the Young Women’s Trust and the Fatherhood Institute. The Flex for All campaign is calling for a change the law so that flexible working is open to all workers from day one in the job, with employers required to advertise all jobs on that basis.
- Support for flexible working: TUC polling published in June this year revealed huge appetite for flexible working coming out of the pandemic. Four out of five (82%) of workers say that they want to take up some form of flexible working in the future. But without action we risk a class divide, with employers more likely to not offer flexible working to those who did not work from home during the pandemic.
- Lack of availability of flexible working: TUC polling published in 2019 revealed that three in 10 requests for flexible working were turned down. And that flexitime is unavailable to over half (58%) of the UK workforce. This number rises to nearly two-thirds (64%) for people in working-class occupations.
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
TUC press office
020 7467 1248
Mother Pukka press enquiries
020 3709 9758
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