Finding Flexibility survey 2014

By Richard Dunstan

Earlier this week, Working Families launched our Parents of Disabled Children Survey 2014. The survey, which in 2012 led to our influential Finding Flexibility report, seeks parents views on the barriers to entering and remaining in the workplace whilst caring for a child with special needs.

More than 1,000 families completed the survey in 2012, revealing a deeply worrying pattern of unemployment and under-employment, with many parents forced to decline promotion, accept lower-skilled work, reduce their hours of work, or leave the labour market altogether in order to care for their disabled children. Furthermore the prospects of those who give up work altogether being able to return to the labour market are very poor.

While finding suitable and affordable childcare was seen by parents as the main barrier to paid work, survey respondents reported many other obstacles: taking time off to deal with hospital appointments and school emergencies; inflexible access to health, care and education services; a lack of part-time and flexible work options; the complexity of the social security system; and a lack of focused services to support those who wish to return to work. Of the more than 1,000 respondents:

  • 27 per cent were not in paid employment
  • 82 per cent of those not in paid employment had given up their job in order to care for their disabled children
  • 50 per cent of those not in paid employment had given up work at least six years ago, making it very difficult to get back into the labour market
  • Only 38 per cent of those in paid employment were working 30 or more hours per week
  • 61 per cent of those in work had changed or tried to change their pattern of work, and 56 per cent had changed or tried to reduce their hours, in order to manage their caring responsibilities
  • 64 per cent of those in paid employment had refrained from seeking promotion, had declined promotion, or had accepted demotion in order to balance caring and paid work.

Such findings from our 2012 survey were echoed in the recent report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Childcare for Disabled Children, led by MPs Robert Buckland and Pat Glass. Of the almost 1,200 parents who responded to the Inquiry’s on-line survey:

  • 41 per cent said their children have not been able to access the full 15 hours of free entitlement for early education for three- and four-year-olds
  • 38 per cent reported paying £11-20 per hour for their childcare, and five per cent reported paying more than £20 per hour.

As the Children’s Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, notes in a foreword to the report:

The findings of this Inquiry are not encouraging. Today, only one quarter of local authorities say they have enough childcare [in their area] for disabled children. This becomes more acute for older disabled children. Parents report it is more difficult in both finding and paying for childcare for disabled children compared to non-disabled children. This means that too many disabled children and young people are missing out on not only important educational opportunities but also opportunities to socialise with other children, play and have fun – all of which they have a right to under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The report itself concludes that children’s rights, the challenge of eliminating poverty and basic fairness all demand that we take the task of achieving an inclusive childcare system seriously. No child’s horizons and opportunities should be narrowed by their first encounters with education and activities outside the school system. No parent should be excluded from the opportunity to work. It simply makes no sense for disabled children to be included in mainstream education but excluded from mainstream childcare. And the impact on individual families is set out in this powerful article in The Independent by Stacie Lewis, one of five mothers who gave oral evidence to the Inquiry.

Responding to the Inquiry report, the shadow childcare minister, Lucy Powell MP, noted that “parents of disabled kids have so much pressure in their lives that the last thing they need is another battle over childcare”. Hear hear to that. Ms Powell further noted that “the report provides a prescription for government action” and “definitely gives me the foundation to move things forward in government”.

Over the coming months, Working Families, along with the other organisations that supported the Parliamentary Inquiry – Contact a Family, Every Disabled Child Matters, and the Family and Childcare Trust – will be working to get all three main political parties to commit to addressing the Inquiry report’s recommendations, and in particular its call for “a cross-departmental action plan and funded programme to ensure that all disabled children and young people can access affordable and appropriate childcare”. And you can help us in that work by completing our Finding Flexibility Survey 2014 – click here to access the survey on-line.  The findings of the survey will be fed directly into our lobbying work.

(If you would like a paper copy of the survey, please contact the Working Families office).

Working Families & MumsNet Survey Report

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.