Posted on Jan 20th 2021.
Making childcare arrangements can be difficult at the best of times .
It is especially hard now more than ever, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many working parents to find last-minute childcare due to lockdowns and the closure of schools.
Usually, grandparents are the first option for informal/last-minute childcare (if both parents are working) but if that isn’t an option, many parents rely on older relatives or close friends to look after their children while they are at work.
However, COVID-19 is far more dangerous for older people or those with pre-existing medical conditions which has made many parents apprehensive, unsure if it’s still safe for their relatives/friends to look after their children.
In this current climate, most working parents do not have a choice other than to rely on older relatives for childcare which can be a big source of stress and worry.
Parents are stuck between a rock and a hard place, they can’t leave their dependent children alone while they’re at work but having relatives or friends care for their child puts both the child and carer at a higher risk of contracting the virus (due to the increased social contact).
In June 2018, there were 1.2 million lone parents (single parents) working in the UK .
These parents do not have the luxury of depending on their partner to look after their child and if HR does not put childcare policies in place, employees may be forced to work less or even quit their job to look after their child.
The Office for National Statistics found that that 3 out of 4 mothers with a dependent were in employment.
Additionally, 3 in 10 mothers with a child under 14 had reduced their working hours due to childcare reasons (compared to 1 in 20 fathers).
At the end of 2020, female employment was at 72.1% and male employment was 78.4% – There was around a 6% difference between the amount of female to male workers, which is arguably why more thought should go into childcare to allow more female employees who have dependent children to stay in work.
The furlough scheme, first presented by the chancellor of the exchequer in March 2020, has been extended to April 2021.
Meaning employees can stay at home and receive 80% of their wage from the government.
The government has also widened the eligibility of the furlough scheme, stating that if an employee is “unable to work because they have caring responsibilities resulting from coronavirus (COVID-19), including employees that need to look after children” they will now be eligible for furlough.
This means that even if parents’ workplaces are allowed to remain open, they can still be placed onto furlough which is a great temporary fix for employees without access to childcare (if the employee has previously been on the furlough system).
Parents with at least 1 years service with their employer are entitled to up to 4 weeks of unpaid leave (per year, per child) which can be used when childcare is unavailable.
To be eligible for parental leave employees need to; be named on the child’s birth or adoption certificate, not self-employed, not a foster parent and the child is under the age of 18.
Although during these exceptional times, employers have the power to waive these eligibility requirements.
This can be very useful for working parents that have no other options for childcare.
Parental leave may not be the most ideal method, particularly for parents with lower incomes as it is unpaid leave, but it is a good emergency option for childcare.
Most workers in the UK are entitled to 5.6 weeks of paid holiday every year (known as annual leave), so if parents have any annual leave leftover from the year they can use this for childcare.
This is very advantageous for many parents as they can get their full pay while staying at home to look after their child(ren).
Plus, due to COVID-19, workers can now carry up to 4 weeks of leave over to the next 2 leave years which means working parents can have more time off if they need it for childcare.
However, this annual leave is meant to be used to have a much needed holiday/rest from work – To reduce employee stress and increase productivity.
If workers with children do not want to use all their annual leave on childcare or do not have any annual leave left, they can use unpaid leave instead.
This is not a good option financially for parents as they’re effectively losing money but it does allow parents with no choice to look after their children.
All workers are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid leave, allowing parents to provide childcare and arrange alternatives which can help them get back into work as soon as possible.
Under the Employment Act (2002), employees have the right to ask for flexible working and while it’s not a legal right to have flexible working, during a pandemic most businesses understand the need for flexible working.
Currently, many companies are already offering flexible working to many of their employees .
The government is actively encouraging working from home where possible (a type of flexible working).
This is a bonus for parents without childcare as they can supervise their children and work at the same time.
Flexible working is not just working from home; other examples include flexitime, job shares, part-time hours and condensing hours.
All these options can be useful for working parents, allowing them to have more time to look after their child(ren) and gives more opportunity for workers to find childcare alternatives.
Not having easy access to childcare can cause working parents to ignore their own needs and increase stress levels – With the pandemic these issues are only made worse.
This is why many employers are providing occupational health support and encouraging and/or helping employees to access mental health services.
Having this access can take some of the pressure off working parents and makes them feel supported; this can help employees when finding childcare alternatives and it can help children feel less worried about current world events.
Additionally, it can improve the employee-employer relationship which in turn can improve work quality and productivity.
Do you need help supporting without childcare? Look no further – Wurkplace is here to help!
Amber is an Intern project support officer and blogger for Wurkplace, helping with digital marketing and content writing.
She holds a BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour degree from the University of Chester, and is passionate about broadening her skill set.
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