Parents would welcome intervention on long-hours culture

Government
intervention to reduce the demand for weekend working and for long hours would
be welcomed by parents trying to balance work and family responsibilities.

A
Joseph Rowntree Foundation report argues that parents of both sexes support
action to help them put their families first, and that stereotyped images of
child-centred mothers and work-focused fathers are increasingly out-of-date.

Assessing
the key findings from 19 separate research studies, the report also concludes
that the Government’s well-intentioned efforts to tackle family poverty by
persuading more parents to find work risks sending an unwelcome signal that
care for children and other unpaid work is unimportant. It warns policy makers
that the implication that paid childcare is somehow ‘better’ than parental care
runs contrary to the instincts of many parents.

The
analysis, by Professor Shirley Dex of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at
University of London’s Institute of Education, is the concluding report from
the foundation’s five-year research programme on work and family life.

Dex
notes that in today’s ‘typical’ family with children one parent (usually the
father) works full-time and the other (usually the mother) works part-time. But
while many of these ‘1.5-earner’ households cope with juggling work with family
life, the research programme found evidence of widespread dissatisfaction among
working parents:

More
than half all fathers work more than a 40-hour week, including 30 per cent who
routinely exceed the 48 hours a week limit set by the EU Working Time
Directive. One in eight mothers also work more than a 40-hour week, including 6
per cent who regularly work more than a 48-hour week.

Employed
parents are more likely to work outside the normal ‘nine to five’ than other
workers. Some 53 per cent of mothers, 54 per cent of lone mothers and 79 per
cent of fathers frequently work at atypical times of day.

More
than half all fathers, and over a third of mothers work at least one Saturday a
month, while a quarter of mothers and nearly a third of fathers work on
Sundays.

Although
having two earners gives families a higher standard of living and protects them
against financial hardship, most working mothers say they would reduce their
hours or stop working altogether if they could afford to do so.

Dex
said: “The strategy of having two earners in a family appears to be effective
in reducing risk and providing the standard of living to which most low- and
middle-income families aspire. Most couples have found ways to juggle their
work and family life, even if it means ‘shift parenting’ and sacrificing time
they could spend together so one or other can be at home with the children.

“Even
so, this research programme found a lot of tired parents, a large amount of
dissatisfaction, and a desire to cut down working hours, or even give up paid
work altogether. Clearly the preferences expressed by many mothers run counter
to the direction of government ‘welfare to work’ policies since they would
prefer to do less, not more, work while their children are young.”

www.jrf.org.uk

By Quentin Reade

Comments are closed.