A petition demanding the government introduce stronger rights to flexible working has been launched after a new survey found nearly two-thirds (63%) of working mums with primary school-age children do not have sufficient childcare for the six-week school summer holidays.
At the end of June, the TUC and campaigner Mother Pukka called on working mums to share their experiences of how they will manage their work and childcare commitments over the school summer holiday.
More than 36,000 mums working across the public and private sector reported huge challenges in balancing their work and childcare, with three in five (60%) saying they would find managing childcare in the holidays more difficult this year than previously.
Of those who said they would find summer childcare more difficult this year, nearly one in five (18%) said they had used all their annual leave allowance already to accommodate homeschooling during previous lockdowns.
Moreover, one in five (20%) do not have their usual network of friends or family that they can rely on to help with their childcare this year, while one in eight (13%) told the TUC they don’t have access to their usual school holiday summer clubs.
Previous TUC research showed working mums have picked up the lion’s share of the increase in caring responsibilities during the covid-19 lockdowns and school closures. But the latest survey reveals the coming school holidays will be yet another struggle for working mums.
Respondents said they are juggling a variety of means to manage their childcare during the school holiday, with many relying on being able to work more flexibly than before to help them cope.
Nearly half (48%) of mums said they were managing caring responsibilities through some form of flexible working, around two in five (39%) will have to combine working from home with childcare, while more than one in four (27%) will work more flexibly than normal.
One in eight (13%) working mothers will either have to reduce their hours at work or take unpaid leave.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “While restrictions may be lifting and ministers talk about us getting back to normal, working mums are still feeling the impact of the pandemic. Most mums told us they don’t have enough childcare for the upcoming school holidays and are now facing a huge challenge managing their work and caring responsibilities this summer.
“It shouldn’t be this difficult. If ministers don’t act, we risk turning the clock back on generations of progress women have made at work. It’s clear parents are relying on flexibility more than ever to cope with the extra demands posed by the crisis.”
O’Grady urged employers to be as supportive as they can to those staff who have children, and not force them back to the office if working from home helps them balance their work and childcare.
Anna Whitehouse, the founder of Mother Pukka, said: “There are approximately 62 days of holiday a year, and the average employee holiday allowance is 25 days. The maths simply doesn’t add up.
“If we are going to recover from this pandemic and ensure the playing field is level for men and women at some point in the future, we need childcare to be part of our infrastructure – as important as roads, railways, and signposts.”
As tough as the situation is for two-parent families, Whitehouse pointed to the TUC research that showed that more than three in four (76%) single mothers don’t have adequate childcare for the upcoming holidays.
“Together with the TUC, I want to not just break the cycle, but rebuild a whole new way of working for parents which doesn’t leave them logging off from their careers or disconnected from their family,” she added.
The TUC and Mother Pukka are calling on the government to introduce a legal right to flexible work for all workers from their first day in a job and a duty to include available flexibility in job adverts, such as predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours, and term-time working.
The union body and campaigner also call for the introduction of 10 days’ carer’s leave paid on full pay, from day one in a job, for all parents. Currently, parents have no statutory right to paid leave to look after their children.
Finally, they have highlighted the need for more funding for quality, affordable childcare throughout the year to support parents and help UK recover from the pandemic.