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All jobs should be flexible, says Children’s Minister

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Published date:  12 Feb 2007

All British workers – not just parents – should have the right to request flexible working, according to Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes, writing in a new book for the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr). The proposals are part of a collection of essays that will be published in May to mark the 10th anniversary of Labour’s 1997 election victory and includes radical new policy proposals from the next generation of Labour politicians.

All British workers – not just parents – should have the right to request flexible working, according to Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes, writing in a new book  for the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr). The proposals are part of a collection of essays that will be published in May to mark the 10th anniversary of Labour’s 1997 election victory and includes radical new policy proposals from the next generation of Labour politicians.

The Children’s Minister argues that the best way to help children see more of their parents and for families of all shapes and sizes – including single people – to cope with increasing pressures is to change fundamentally Britain’s working culture. She argues that extending the right to request flexible working would particularly help parents to balance work around their children, rather than their children around their work, and make it easier for mothers and fathers to share these commitments together.

At the moment, only parents of children under six (or disabled children under 18) have the right to request flexible working (around 3.6 million people). From April, those who are either related to, or live with someone, for whom they have a caring responsibility will also be granted this right (around 2.8 million people). But Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes argues that the right should be extended to cover all employees (around 29 million people). She also argues that all jobs should be advertised as part-time, job-share or flexi-time unless there is a sound business case not to.

Beverley Hughes recommends doubling the length of paid paternity leave to a month, and progressively increasing the rates of maternity and paternity pay – which are currently only around two thirds the level of the minimum wage – so that caring for young children is a realistic option for mothers and fathers in all families. She also recommends that the existing 13 weeks of parental leave be paid, so that low-income parents - especially fathers - can afford to take time off to care for their young children.

Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes argues:

“Many working people say they feel time-squeezed. With more women at work, an aging population and many people aspiring to volunteer or to further develop their skills, Government and employers need to recognise that balancing work and life is an issue that’s not going away. We need a step change.

“Growing numbers of women at work has, in practice, often resulted in women having two jobs – a new professional one plus the old domestic one. We need to help families negotiate the balancing act between care work and paid work, avoiding negative trade offs between time and money.

“The Government has made great progress in opening up the right to request flexible working and enabling both employees and employers to see the benefits. Extending the right to request flexible working to everyone would be a natural progression and enable all workers – whatever their personal circumstances - to balance home and work better.

“Everyone has a life outside work, not just parents. We must redefine the ‘ideal worker’ and accept it is a fantasy to expect people to have none other than work commitments. Indeed, many people make valuable contributions to their communities in their non-work time.

“It is unacceptable for family-friendly employment to be an option only for those parents – often women – who downshift in pay and status. ‘Work-life balance’ is still unobtainable for many low-income families, where the impact of low pay, job insecurity and long or atypical working hours bite hardest.”

Notes to Editors

Children, Parenting and Families: Renewing the Progressive Story by Beverley Hughes MP and Graeme Cooke is part of a collection of essays to be published in May. Politics for a New Generation: the Progressive Moment  will be published by ippr and Palgrave Macmillan, to mark the 10th anniversary of Labour’s 1997 election victory. It includes chapters by Ed Balls MP, Ed Miliband MP, David Miliband MP, Hilary Benn MP, Beverley Hughes MP, Kitty Ussher MP, Natascha Engel MP, Dawn Butler MP, Sadiq Khan MP, Alison Seabeck MP, Jamie Reed MP, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP and Stan Greenberg.

Beyond Liberty: Is the future of Liberalism Progressive?  will be launched by ippr at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference next month and includes chapters by Nick Clegg MP, Vince Cable MP, David Laws MP, Steve Webb MP and Chris Huhne MP.

Daddy Dearest: Active Fatherhood and public policy  edited by Kate Stanley was published by ippr in 2004 and made recommendations for the changes Beverley Hughes is proposing for parental and paternity leave. 

Flexible working is defined by employment law as part-time, flexi-time, annualised hours, compressed hours, staggered hours, job share and working from home. For more details see directgov. The right to request flexible working is enforce through employment tribunal, where employers have to prove why jobs could not be made flexible in ordered to refuse requests.

Twenty two percent of parents of young children (representing 14 percent of all employers) have asked to work flexibly over the last two years.

  • Employers accepted four out of five requests.
  • More than half (56 percent) of British employers with more than 10 workers operate flexible working hours.
  • Nearly half of new mothers (47 percent) now work flexi-time compared to just 17 per cent in 2002.
  • The number of fathers working flexibly has trebled.

Statutory paternity leave was introduced in 2003 and entitles all new fathers to two weeks leave paid at £108.85 a week. Statutory maternity pay currently entitles new mothers to six months pay at £108.85 a week (employers are required to pay 90 per cent of pay for the first six weeks). This will extend to nine months in April.

Parental leave is the right for parents to take 13 weeks unpaid leave over the first five years of their child's life at a maximum of four weeks per year.

Contact:

Richard Darlington, ippr media manager, 020 7470 6177 / 07738 320 645 / r.darlington@ippr.org

Matt Jackson, ippr senior media officer, 020 7339 0007 / 07753 719 289 / m.jackson@ippr.org