Unequal opportunities create new underclass of workers

Low-paid
working parents and carers are part of the UK’s new underclass of workers
according to Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).

The
EOC is so concerned about the pay and career prospects of workers with caring
responsibilities who can’t work the traditional nine-to-five that it has
decided to launch a major new investigation.

Almost
four in 10 mothers, one in 10 fathers and almost one in five carers have either
given up or turned down a job because of their caring responsibilities.

Enough
hours in the day?, an investigation into problems faced by working carers and
parents, will look specifically at the obstacles faced by mothers, fathers and
carers who need part-time or flexible working hours and the effect on the
economy as skilled and experienced staff give up because of the difficulties in
combining the demands of work and home.

The
investigation will ask:


Why do women with caring responsibilities often end up in poorly paid part-time
jobs?


Why is part-time work less well regarded than full-time work and often only
available at junior levels or in poorly paid sectors/industries?


What are the barriers and constraints to wider availability and take-up of
flexible working, which prevent the UK from fully capitalising on the skills of
mothers, fathers and carers?

Mellor
said: "Our lives have changed immeasurably in the past 50 years. More men
and women than ever before are involved with caring for others, many of them at
the same time as holding down a paid job, and this trend is set to increase in
the future.

"It’s
essential that we uncover and tackle the popular misconceptions about the value
of flexible and part-time workers if the UK’s employers are to compete in the
24-7 global economy," she said. "Supporting parents and carers is
good for families, good for business and good for UK.

"We
are deeply concerned that, despite the Government’s efforts to widen access to
flexible working at all levels, some people are still being told the only way
that they can continue working, with a family, is to accept a downgraded job.

"Our
annual report, published today, reveals the big gap between people’s
expectation that women and men should have the same opportunities, and the
reality of their experiences.

"Women
with a family often find their prospects are limited to low-paid work with
little hope of promotion. As a result many men end up working long hours to
make up for the family’s loss of income. By launching this investigation, the
EOC is aiming to find out what needs to change to make sure more people have
access to flexible working hours at all levels of the labour market. It’s
outrageous that women working part-time still earn 40 per cent less per hour
than men working full-time."

At
the end of the investigation, in Spring 2005, the EOC will make recommendations
to Patricia Hewitt, secretary of state for trade and industry and minister for
women.

By Quentin Reade

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