A TUC survey of 50,000 working parents has found that 78% have not been offered furlough by their employer during the pandemic, while 71% have had furlough requests refused during the latest school closures.
Of the survey respondents, 93% were women, proving that it’s predominantly working mothers who are bearing the brunt of the double burden of juggling work and childcare.
The vast majority of these women are left completely unsupported by both their employers and the government.
UNISON national officer Josie Irwin said: “New evidence from the TUC confirms what we always knew, that working mums in particular – many in low-paid work with irregular hours – are struggling to hold onto their jobs as a consequence of school closures.
“They are exhausted from trying to find childcare and manage their child’s online learning as well as work at the same time. Some are making themselves ill and some have had to give up their job.”
UNISON member Simone Jarvis* is currently working part-time in local government while home-schooling her seven-year-old daughter.
“There are no breaks for me. If I’m doing my work and I’m asked a question by my daughter about her work, I just have to instantly switch over. There’s no separation of home, school and work.
“Even if I did have a routine in place where there were set times I was working, and set times to home-school, it would still leave 3-6 hours a day where my daughter would be by herself, doing whatever she wanted.
And Ms Jarvis continues: “There is a constant guilt: do I ignore my work or do I ignore my child?
“On Monday, I was trying to type an email, and my daughter was sitting on me because she wanted to be as close as possible to me – I was trying to type and email and read it to see if it made sense, but I kept getting distracted.
“I can’t read, concentrate or focus because there’s always something else either side of me.”
Ms Jarvis isn’t alone. The TUC survey reports that 90% of working mothers have seen their anxiety and stress levels increase during the latest lockdown.
UNISON supports the TUC’s call for paid parental leave, so working parents have a statutory right to look after their children.
The TUC is calling on the government to introduce:
- a day one right to 10 days paid parental leave. Currently parents have no statutory right to paid leave to look after their children;
- a day one right to flexible work. 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.
Paid parental leave would transform the lives of thousands of working mothers – and their children.
Tania Earnshaw is the UNISON branch secretary for Medway Town, and is hearing from women who are struggling to cope.
“It’s getting to the crunch-time now. In the previous lockdown, parents who couldn’t work from home used their annual leave or unpaid leave. Now we’re at the point in the financial year where leave options have been exhausted, and women don’t have the flexibility of requesting time off. It’s the worst possible time for a second lockdown.”
“Women are in the position of doing double the work: our paid work, and the family work. Women are taking the brunt of caring on this pandemic; in jobs, in the house.
And Ms Earnshaw continued: “It’s not just with the kids, but caring responsibilities for elderly parents as well. We really are getting it from all directions.”
The TUC survey showed that almost half (48%) those responding were worried about being treated negatively by their employers because of their childcare responsibilities, and last week the Women’s Budget Group found that low-paid working mothers are eight times more at risk of losing their job due to school closures in the UK.
Ms Irwin said: “Gender equality is going backwards and we’re losing all the progress that was so hard fought for in the last 50 years. Anyone who is struggling to balance caring responsibilities with work – whether they work in the private or public sector – can request furlough. But their employer is not obliged to agree. And that’s the problem.”
*A pseudonym has been used to protect her identity.