Supporting mothers (and fathers) trying to juggle paid work with raising young children

Combining paid work with having young children is by no means an easy task, and for many women (and men), whether or not to return to work after having a child is a decision that sparks a lot of different considerations: Is it financially worthwhile? Can I find a job that suits my family commitments? What’s best for me and my family?

As recently as August this year, the Scottish Government made clear its commitment to helping mothers back into work, pledging £185,000 to schemes set up to do this. Their reasons for doing so are many: gender equality, improving families’ incomes and, through this, reducing the number of children growing up in poverty.

But just how bad or good are maternal employment rates in Scotland, who are the mothers that most need Government support and what are the barriers they face?

Our recent report for the Growing Up in Scotland study shows that, in fact, the proportion of mothers with young children who are in paid work has increased since 2005. In 2015, as many as 70% of mothers in Scotland with a 5 year old child were in paid work, and 79% had been in paid work at some point since their child was born.

However, our research also shows that a small group of mothers with young children would like to find paid work, but have been unable to do so. The proportion of women in this group has remained unchanged since 2005, suggesting more could be done to help them re-enter the labour market after having a child.

These mothers tended to be younger than those who were not looking for work. They were also more likely to be single parents, and to be living on a low income. Of course, the reasons why these women aren’t working will often come down to personal circumstances, but our research did identify some common problems and potential solutions for the Government’s consideration:

  • making secure and well-paid part time positions available across all skill levels, including lower skilled jobs 
  • encouraging employers to offer family-friendly working arrangements across all skills levels, such as being able to work from home and/or to work only during school hours, and being able to take time off at short notice 
  • Ensuring affordable childcare is available at the time and in locations that suit families – including for children under the age of one. This could be of particular importance for single mothers who will in most cases be their child’s sole carer
  • ensuring mothers, especially young mothers, have opportunities to further their education and skills set

Last, and by no means least, it needs to be recognised that this group of mothers often have multiple and complex needs. No matter how welcome single initiatives such as help with job applications or improving access to further education are, they are unlikely to make much difference for mothers unless they are accompanied by joined up efforts across other policy areas such as health, housing, and welfare.

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