New Working Families report on the issues facing working families during the Coronavirus

Working Families’ new report, Weathering the Storm, outlines the lived experience of working parents as the government, employers, and families struggle to adapt to changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We estimate that the number of people getting in touch with our Legal Advice Service has quadrupled in comparison to previous months. Since mid March 2020, close to 100% of our queries have been related to COVID-19 and over 36,000 people have accessed our COVID-19 focused advice pages.

This new report highlights the ongoing challenges working parents are facing as a result of COVID-19, which greatly increased when schools and childcare settings closed. Many parents are being forced to take unpaid leave or are losing their jobs, bringing economic uncertainty and hardship at the worst possible time.

A key concern amongst working parents has been whether employers can make use of the Job Retention Scheme for employees who are unable to work because of their childcare commitments. While our preference is always to keep parents in work, this simply isn’t possible for all families at the current time. Over the weekend the government’s guidance has been updated to make it clear that the Job Retention Scheme can be used for employees who cannot work for childcare reasons. This is a huge relief for many working parents and now needs to be communicated more widely. 

Below is a summary of the key ongoing issues and Working Families’ recommendations to the government for going further in supporting working parents during this pandemic:

  • Reduced-hours working: Currently, employers do not have an option to ‘top up’ the income of parents who may have reduced their hours because they are caring for their children.  We’re urging the government to explore options that enable employers to claim for the hours parents can’t work, so they aren’t disadvantaged compared to furloughed employees who aren’t working at all.
  • Social security: Clearly, not all employers will be able to support parents to work at home or make use of ‘furloughing’. So, we’re calling for a significant uplift in Child Benefit payments for the duration of the pandemic—for existing and new claimants – to capture parents who have taken unpaid leave or been dismissed as a result of COVID-19.
  • Pregnancy and maternity: Pregnant women have been told by the government that they may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The charity has received a raft of enquiries about this, particularly from pregnant women unable to work from home. The government must make it clear that, where this isn’t possible, employers should be suspending pregnant women on full pay until their maternity leave starts. 
  • Flexibility by default: The government’s next steps around achieving flexible jobs as the default rather than the exception—as committed to in the Queen’s Speech—must be meaningful enough to tackle the reluctance and misperceptions from some employers about how to work flexibly. The ways in which employers have adapted to comply with the government’s requirement for home working ‘where possible’ have irrevocably demonstrated that there is flexibility in many, many more jobs than those that are currently offered on a flexible basis. Both employers and the government should be looking to harness the increases in productivity, talent attraction, and diversity that flexible working brings to the UK economy long after the coronavirus pandemic has run its course.