Balancing work and childcare

Balancing work and childcare responsibilities in the wake of school closures is the subject of a timely article written by Dr Isabel Tavora and Professor Jill Rubery from the Work and Equalities Institute (WEI).

Under the UK government’ furlough scheme parents can be placed on furlough if they have caring responsibilities for a child who is at home as a result of school closures. However, a parent’s request for furlough depends upon the agreement of their employer, which is not always forthcoming.

In a blog for Policy@Manchester the pair examine the flaws in the current scheme, and provide best practice recommendations based on their research into the COVID-19 special parental leave schemes of other European countries.

Challenges

They say that working parents in the UK are currently finding it difficult to balance work with their childcare responsibilities following the recent school closures, with many being denied access to furlough.

In comparison, the COVID-19 special parental leave schemes in many EU countries are provided as a right, supporting parents with their childcare responsibilities while protecting their jobs and their livelihoods.

They therefore argue that countries must be careful when designing paid parental leave schemes to ensure that they do not reinforce the gender divide in childcare or disproportionately force women out of work. Instead, schemes must ensure that both parents can access leave as a right.

Dangers

Professor Rubery, Director of the WEI, said: “The danger of schemes where parental leave requires employer permission is that, if refused, one of the parents may feel obliged to resign or use up holiday entitlement, thereby storing up problems for childcare in school holidays. Women in couple households may feel pressure to be the one to quit their jobs because they tend to have the main responsibility for childcare and normally earn less than their male partner.”

She says the design of leave schemes can also have a positive influence on fathers’ involvement in childcare.

“Good examples are provided by Belgium and Italy where parents were encouraged to share special COVID-19 parental leaves. In Belgium, parental leave could only be taken part-time, enabling each employee to reduce working time up to 50%, and so ensuring full-time care only if both parents took leave. In Italy each parent was entitled to 15 days, with both parents expected to alternate so that care could be provided for a total of 30 days.”

Research

Their research was undertaken in relation to policies introduced in the first wave of COVID-19, up to the end of June 2020. Since then, the level and nature of restrictions has varied between countries throughout the continuing waves of the crisis, and so working parents have continued to experience childcare problems.

“This is not only due to partial or full school closures but also due to the need to support children who fall ill or are required to self-isolate,” added Professor Rubery.

*Dr Tavora and Professor Rubery discuss this research in more detail in ‘The COVID-19 crisis and gender equality: risks and opportunities’ in Social policy in the European Union: state of play 2020.

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