When families cannot meet their basic needs because of financial poverty, the nurturing family life which children require is put under severe strain. But it’s not just about money. Families need time too, if they are to thrive, and for relationships between parents and children to be strong. But for too many parents family time is stolen by work.
Work should be a fulfilling part of life, not only providing income, but also purpose and social relationships beyond the family. But bad work undermines the benefits. The annual“Modern Families Index”, an extensive survey of working parents published by Working Families, reveals the negative, often very damaging, impact which work has on family life, showing us that many parents encounter real difficulties balancing work and family. Only 35% of parents manage to finish work on time every day - the majority stay late, take work home, work in the evenings or at weekends at least some of the time. This translates into burn-out, absenteeism, dwindling levels of wellbeing.
Work eats into the time parents spend on many everyday family activities - so, the ability to help children with homework, take them to activities or simply hang out together are all negatively affected. And to a significant degree - over 40% of parents said that this happens often or all the time. Parents also identified health and wellbeing problems, poor diet, lack of exercise and relationship problems - all as a result of working time overspill.
Research published in 2014 by the relationships research charity, One Plus One, and Working Families shows that stress from work carries over into home life and can damage couple relationships; but that equally, a strong couple relationship provides individual resilience which enables a parent to ride out difficulties at work.
So good work is an essential underpinning of a nurturing family life. The state has a role to play - employment rights are a basic and necessary foundation; and childcare to enable parental participation in the labour market is an essential part of the economic infrastructure. Employers have a responsibility too, to make employment rights a reality for their workers, and to respect and support the people they employ. Much progress has been made, but too often only for those workers seen as high value by their employers. The lower skilled, and lower paid, see less benefit. When Family Friendly Working Scotland looked at households in the lowest 40% of income in Scotland, they found that these parents:
The impact of work on family life, relationships and wellbeing, along with the cost of childcare, led to many (especially women) reducing or giving up work entirely. At the heart of their expectations was a view that it is up to parents alone to find the work-life fit – the balance of time and money – which best meets the needs of their family.
Clearly this is where employers can step in. There are so many opportunities to enable employers to realise the full potential of their lower paid workers - not least, in Scotland, by joining the real Living Wage Campaign, signing up to the Scottish Government’s Business Pledge and joining Family Friendly Working Scotland. The benefits of good work for the Scottish economy, and for children in Scotland, are huge.
The free legal advice service run by Working Families can help your clients with maternity, paternity and flexible working problems. www.workingfamilies.org.uk, 0330 012 0312. FFWS can help your organisation itself to review how you support the parents you employ and how you can improve your own employment practice. www.familyfriendlyworkingscotland.org.uk
Sarah Jackson OBE is an independent expert on good work and family friendly employment practice. She chairs Family Friendly Working Scotland (FFWS) and was CEO of Working Families for 24 years. firstname.lastname@example.org