Last weekend many of us spent quality time with the family to celebrate Mothering Sunday – a day of celebration of mothers and the maternal bond. Each year, on this one day, mums across the country are asked to put their feet up, relax and are flourished with gifts in recognition of the hard work and investment they put into their families. However, amongst all the cards and bouquets of flowers it seems only sensible to ask whether life is actually getting any easier for working mums?
Well, whilst there is an increase of women in the workplace overall, recent statistics show that of the 2.23 million people who were not looking for work because they were looking after the family or home, just over 2 million of these were women. In addition, statistics show that women still do more than double the proportion of unpaid work at home when it comes to cooking, childcare and housework. They also tell us that men tend to work in the professional occupations associated with higher levels of pay than women whereas women dominate employment within caring and leisure occupations.
So are employers doing enough to encourage a move away from the outdated concept of stay-at-home mums? Although there are positive steps taken by many employers, including introducing flexible working, enhanced maternity benefits etc. currently, research suggests that there is still a gap between the sexes.
In recent years, the government has legislated to try and make things better for working women. For example, since April 2015 fathers have been able to take advantage of the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) scheme to access a more flexible way to be part of their child’s life in their first year. SPL enables mothers and fathers (or in fact any new parents, whether by birth or adoption) to take or share up to 50 weeks of SPL and 37 weeks of shared parental pay.
Despite being hailed as a significant breakthrough, the statistics show that the take up of shared parental leave has actually been really low, with surveys suggesting that only around 1% of men have availed themselves of this new right.
Last year we expected the government to start consultation on extending the shared parental leave regime further by extending the leave to grandparents by 2018 (as well as considering ways to streamline the Shared Parental Leave and Pay system, including simplifying the eligibility requirements and notification system) . However, given recent events, this has taken somewhat of a back burner but we still expect further developments in this area.
There is also of course the recent legislation requiring employers to report on the gender pay gap in an attempt to shine the spotlight on gender inequality. You can read our materials on this topic here.
One development that we do have this year however is the introduction of “tax free childcare”. Currently some 450,000 families in the UK claim child care support through the work place voucher system which allows working parents, who are not self-employed, to buy vouchers from their salary before tax is deducted.
The new system is being introduced on 28 April, with a gradual roll out of the scheme starting with parents of the youngest children. Under the new scheme, eligible families will be able to open an online tax-free account and for every 80p paid in, the government will “top up” an extra 20p up to £2,000 per child per year (or £4,000 per year for disabled children). The scheme will be available for children under the age of 12, or under 17 for children with disabilities. To qualify, both parents will have to be in work and earning at least £50 a week but not more than £100,000 per year.
Many of you will be sat wondering whether your family will be any better off under the new scheme compared to the current scheme.
Unlike the current scheme, any eligible working family will be able to use the Tax-Free Childcare scheme as it isn’t dependent on employers offering it. The new scheme will be available to approximately two million households in the UK, including the self-employed, who are currently excluded from employer supported child care schemes. The scheme will also be available to mums on paid and unpaid statutory maternity and also to those parents on SPL, paternity and adoption leave.
For those concerned that they will be worse off under the new scheme, the current employer‑supported childcare vouchers scheme will remain open to new entrants until April 2018 and individuals who wish to use the old system will be able to do so while their employer continues to operate it.
With all this talk about mums and Mothering Sunday some of you may be thinking what about working dads; is work-life getting any easier for them?
It has recently been reported that dads who want to be more involved in the care of their children are afraid to ask for flexible working despite it being within their rights to do so and research suggests that 44% of dads have lied about family related responsibilities. Clearly, this is worrying and suggests that culture at work hasn’t changed enough despite the government introducing Shared Parental Leave in 2015.
It doesn’t therefore appear that the differences outlined above are set to change any time soon, but with the introduction of new legislation and more and more innovative solutions being created by employers, perhaps with time, the statistics will show a different story!