Establish a legal right to furlough for working parents: TUC

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady
Andrew Matthews/PA Archive/PA Images

Working parents with caring responsibilities should have a temporary legal right to access the furlough scheme, the TUC has stated, in the wake of a major study that gauged the impact of Covid restrictions.

The study found that the Covid-19 pandemic had hit working-class women the hardest, with 78% of working mothers not being able to gain furlough funding. The decision to move to remote learning for primary- and secondary-aged children this month affected more than a third of working households. While it was right to close schools, said the authors, the burden for juggling work and care was falling predominantly on mothers, as it did in the first lockdown.

Last week, HM Revenue & Customs updated its furlough guidance to confirm that the scheme could be used where employees were unable to work because they were caring for children while schools were closed.

However, drawing on 50,000 responses, the TUC analysis found:

  • 7 in 10 requests for furlough were being turned down for working mums
  • Nine out of 10 mums sid their mental health had been negatively impacted experiencing levels of stress and anxiety
  • One-quarter of mums were worried they would lose their jobs, either through being singled out for redundancy, sacked or denied hours

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the government’s lack of support for working parents was causing huge financial hardship and stress – and hitting low-paid mothers and single parents hardest.

“Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are despairing,” she said. “It’s neither possible nor sustainable for them to work as normal, while looking after their children and supervising schoolwork.”

The report included contributions from working mothers – one, a private sector worker, wrote: “I asked for furlough and they [employer] told me to try make other arrangements. My only options have been use annual leave or take unpaid leave, both of which I don’t want to and can’t afford to do. I have a year’s school holidays still to cover with my annual leave. I cannot understand what the issue is as to why furlough isn’t being offered.”

Another, also in the private sector, stated: “I’m caring for a two year old full time and now my four year old [is] being home schooled on top of a 32 hour working week and no support from my husband as he can’t work from home. I requested furlough and it was refused. [My manager] feared opening the floodgates, feared the wider business will think our team can manage without [me] and be subject to headcount reduction. Told to take unpaid leave which I can’t afford. I work for a global multi-billion pound business. It’s insane. Many others are in a similar situation.”

Just 7% of responses came from men – suggesting the problem was affecting women mostly.

The survey found that 78% of working mothers had not been offered furlough and almost half (48%) were worried about being treated negatively by their employers because of their childcare responsibilities.

It was also shown that two in five mothers were unaware the scheme was available to parents affected by school or nursery closures.

A Treasury spokesperson said: “It’s been clear since the first lockdown that employers can furlough eligible employees who are required to shield, or those with childcare responsibilities, including because of school closures.”

The TUC recommended employers could offer additional paid leave, or altered workloads and work times, “but as a last resort workers should have the right to be furloughed.” A right to furlough was the best option given that the UK did not have a proper system of paid parental leave or better flexible work rights, it said.

It urged the government to write to all employers telling them to use the furlough scheme to support parents, carers and those required to shield. Ministers should emphasise that “workers taking up or requesting this type of furlough, who are disproportionately women and disabled people, must not be discriminated against”.

A public advertising campaign telling parents, carers, and those required to shield about their eligibility to use the scheme was also required.

Because furlough was for private sector employees only, the report noted, public sector employers urgently needed to explore solutions such as changes to working hours, offering additional paid leave and parental leave.

The UK could take heed of how other countries had taken emergency steps to support parents, the study said. In Germany, parents had been given an additional 10 days leave to support children, and single parents an additional 20 days. In March, Italy approved 15 days’ paid parental leave for both parents, while schools were closed.

Campaigner and author Anna Whitehouse (founder of Mother Pukka), who helped with the TUC survey, said what working parents had been tasked with during lockdown was “not humanly possible”. She highlighted how women were “burning out and logging off” because of the huge pressure the pandemic had heaped on them at home and in the community, and added that the government urgently needed to support all businesses “to enable them to offer a much more flexible solution and furlough. The system needs to step up for parents before we step back to the 1950s”.

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3 Responses to Establish a legal right to furlough for working parents: TUC

  1. Avatar
    Martin cgamber 15 Jan 2021 at 1:18 pm #

    I am single dad who is now forced to stay at home to care for my child. I received furlough during the 1st lockdown but I had to beg for it.

    I am in the same position again during this current lockdown but my employer is refusing furlough because I have lots of project work for months ahead. My work is not essential.

    They have now offered take annual leave or go unpaid. This is causing so much stress, anxiety and sadness. Effectively they are asking me to leave my child at home alone just because they want me in earning revenue.

    Upper management have been unseen in the work place since March 2020.

    I am begging the government to enforce employers to claim furlough for all parent staying home for their children and remaining safe

  2. Avatar
    Cherry 17 Jan 2021 at 6:13 pm #

    Well said. I am also in this position having 2 elderly clinically vulnerable parents who need to shield that live separately from us. The government has missed out a huge piece of information. Our elderly parents are often our children’s only carers whilst we work ,so why shouldn’t we protect our kids ,and them by using Furlough until they have the vaccines maximum protection? It has also been a battle with my employer an affluent company also. I cant live without my usual income so am using my annual leave as pay now .Please act soon and push employers to Furlough single parents ,as I will soon have used all my annual leave.

  3. Avatar
    Victoria 20 Jan 2021 at 9:13 am #

    I don’t understand what employers think we’re going to do during the 13 weeks of school holidays? I requested to be part time furloughed (I thought it was a good compromise) under the flexible furlough scheme but have been told by my employer I have to use my leave or take unpaid time off. I wonder how many of the businesses refusing furlough are run by all male Management Teams and Board of Directors?

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