71 per cent of working mums who have applied for furlough following the latest school closures have had their requests turned down, according to a new TUC survey carried out in the past week and published today.
The job retention scheme currently allows bosses to furlough parents who can’t work due to a lack of childcare. However, the TUC says many mums are missing out on this financial lifeline as the scheme is not promoted to parents.
The union body is also concerned some employers are refusing to furlough those who request it, leaving mums in an impossible situation where they are forced to reduce their hours at work, take unpaid leave and annual leave to cope, or leave their job altogether.
Last week, the TUC and campaigner Mother Pukka launched a call for evidence for working mums to share their experiences of how they are managing their work and childcare commitments during lockdown.
More than 50,000 mums got in touch – and of those, 71 per cent who asked for furlough had their requests refused; 78 per cent hadn’t been offered furlough by their employers; and 40 per cent of all mums who replied were unaware that the furlough scheme was available to parents affected by school or nursery closures.
Working mums told the TUC they were struggling with the strain of being expected to carry out their jobs as normal, while balancing childcare and home-schooling.
Nearly all of those who replied said that their anxiety and stress levels had increased during this latest lockdown; and almost half were worried about being treated negatively by their employers because of their childcare responsibilities.
The TUC says that the UK’s inadequate system of parental leave and woefully low level of sick pay is leaving parents in impossible situations, where they risk losing their job or facing a catastrophic loss of income.
To support these workers, the TUC is calling on ministers to introduce a temporary right to furlough for groups who cannot work because of coronavirus restrictions – both parents and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and required to shield. And ministers should clarify that furlough can be used by both private and public sector employers for these purposes.
The union body says employers should first explore with parents and those shielding whether other measures – such as offering additional paid leave, changes to working hours or other flexibilities like working from home, and offering alternative work – could help the worker balance their responsibilities, but that as a last resort, workers should have the right to be furloughed.
Ministers should encourage employers to use the furlough scheme for parents and those shielding where other arrangements cannot be made, and run a major advertising campaign so that parents and shielders understand that they can use furlough.
Speaking about the survey, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said, “The safety of school staff and children must always come first.”
“But the government’s lack of support for working parents is causing huge financial hardship and stress – and hitting low-paid mums and single parents hardest.”
“Just like in the first lockdown, mums are shouldering the majority of childcare.”
“Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are despairing.”
“It’s neither possible nor sustainable for them to work as normal, while looking after their children and supervising schoolwork.”
“Making staff take weeks of unpaid leave isn’t the answer.”
“Bosses must do the right thing and offer maximum flexibility to mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare.”
“And as a last resort, parents must have a temporary right to be furloughed where their boss will not agree.”
“The UK’s parental leave system is one of the worst in Europe.”
“It’s time for the government to give all parents the right to work flexibly, plus at least ten days’ paid carers leave each year.”
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