It’s no secret that working mothers often get a raw deal in this country.
Women are still responsible for the lion’s share of childcare responsibilities – whether it’s being at home during school holidays or when the children are unwell, doing the school run, or managing doctor and dentist appointments.
So it’ll be no surprise that working mums have also had a raw deal during lockdown. But the scale of how badly they’re being let down will still come as a shock.
The announcement of the job retention scheme was one of the trade union movement’s early victories during the pandemic.
It’s meant millions of people saved from virtual dole queues as their employers weather the economic side of Covid. It’s also allowed many clinically vulnerable employees and those with caring responsibilities to stay away from work.
But a TUC survey published this week – to which an enormous 50,000 working mums responded – shows this isn’t happening as planned for families.
The UK government has specifically said that employees who are “unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (Covid-19), including employees that need to look after children” can be furloughed.
Shockingly, nearly three-quarters of those who applied for furlough following the latest school closures had their request turned down, the survey found.
It also showed just how few people are aware that carers can apply for the scheme. Only two-fifths of mums were aware that furlough was available for parents affected by school or nursery closures.
This means real problems for working parents – you can’t be a teacher and do your job at the same time. Both are bound to suffer if we expect this to go on.
It’s why 90% told the TUC their stress and anxiety levels had risen during this latest lockdown.
The government must intervene. The TUC is urgently calling for
- An emergency statutory right to furlough for groups who cannot work because of coronavirus restrictions – parents, carers and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and required to shield;
- Ten days’ paid carers leave, from day one in a job, for all parents. Currently parents have no statutory right to paid leave to look after their children;
- A right to flexible work for all parents. Flexible working can take lots of different forms, including having predictable or set hours, working from home, job-sharing, compressed hours and term-time working;
- An increase in sick pay to at least the level of the real living wage, for everyone in work, to ensure workers can afford to self-isolate if they need to;
- Newly self-employed parents to have access the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS).
Low-paid working mothers are eight times more like likely to lose their job due to school closures, according to the Women’s Budget Group.
No wonder then that nearly half of respondents told the TUC they were worried about getting a hard time off their employers because of childcare responsibilities.
We can’t let progress on gender equality be another victim of the pandemic. We must support working mothers during this crisis.
If you are aware of any UNISON members who are struggling to manage their childcare but have been refused furlough, please encourage them to contact their branch for urgent advice.