By Avril Douglas
Recently, thanks to Mumsnet, Working Families ran a survey to gauge the extent of the challenges faced by working parents of disabled children as part of the Working On Campaign.
Respondents were asked to identify supportive employment practices, as well as to highlight challenges and restrictions. Of the 222 respondents, 59% were working and 41% were not working.
Challenges cited by the parents were: lack of flexible work opportunities (45.4%); cost, availability and appropriateness of childcare (26.7%); disjointed public services (26.7%); and transport problems (1.2%).
Comments from the parents include:
- “need more flexible childcare when your child is sick”
- “school should have more awareness of parents’ work commitments”
- “convincing employers that flexible working could get more out of a hard-working employee who would go the extra mile”
- “more opportunities for self-employment”
- “an increase in the amount of money parents can earn when in receipt of carers’ allowance”
- “hope the bill that is going through the House of Lords raising the extra hours of childcare from 15-25 hours becomes law very soon”
The respondents who were in employment were asked what was the most important factor keeping them in work. Responses were
- Understanding employer (21.2%)
- Flexible working (36.5%)
- Reliable care (14.6%)
- Informal support network (3.7%)
- Integrated services (4.4%)
Individuals gave positive examples of good practice, including: flexible hours; carers’ passport recognised; empathetic employer; set shifts; part-time work; term time-only contract; support from a trade union.
However, the reverse of these positive personal examples is that many working parents feel defeated and very frustrated. Examples include the following comments:
- “going to have to give up work. We’re both exhausted….we’ll struggle to survive on benefits”
- “had to give up work because of lack of available childcare…. My son needs 2:1”
- “I was told I could not be a supervisor and a parent of a disabled child. I was refused an application for flexible working. I claimed for constructive dismissal and settled out of court.”
One respondent was a nurse who was made redundant because she needed school hours’ shifts during term time, but this was not available.
“I have always worked hard…. It meant nothing…. I now have to work agency shifts with no holiday pay. I’m just hanging on to my career with no training opportunities, no supervision and no job security.”
Another parent took no proper leave for two years: “All leave was taken up with medical appointments.”
Whilst some progress is being made – as is borne out in the examples of good practice – there is clearly a long way to go in terms of equality of employment opportunity for working parents of disabled children.
To conclude, one parent suggests:
“All employers should adhere to a flexible code of conduct on working hours for parents with caring responsibilities. I suggest that this code of conduct should be devised by legislators. At the moment it is something worse than a post code lottery.”
The Working On campaign aims:
- to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by parents of disabled children who are seeking to combine work and care;
- to encourage change in childcare provision, employment practices and support services, to enable more parents of disabled children to enter and to remain in work; and
- to change attitudes, so that it is recognised that the parents of disabled children CAN work but need support to remain in employment.