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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Work and Poverty

"Children are not private luxuries: they are a joy in themselves and a social good." CPAG

UNISON has launched a Childcare Charter calling for the provision of high quality childcare in this we also point out that Getting it Right For Every Child cannot be separated from improving how work fits into family life. As in work poverty continues to grow we need to look at the balance between hours worked, rates of pay and the need to undertake caring responsibilities in order
Almost two thirds of children living in poverty have at least one working parent we need to look at how make sure that work does indeed guarantee freedom from poverty. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)have published a new paper Round the Clock: in work poverty and the hours question. They pose the question “How many hours should parent work (in order not to be poor)? The research is not just about how much you can earn but how you balance working hours with looking after children. The research involves an evidence review on attitudes to parental employment, a poll asking how many hours it was reasonable for parents to work and when those hours should be, taking the polling results to focus groups and also asking more about working hours expectations for lower paid parents and finally taking the results to employers to hear their views. The report also considers the policy implications of the findings.

Choices about how and when to work are made in an economic and social context. Most people think that once you have children you will have to reduce spending in some areas because you have higher costs in others. An EHRC study on working preferences in 2009 found that 57% of high income households had a stay at home parent in contrast to only 25% of those on low incomes. As the recession has progresses average earnings have decreased and so those on low pay to work longer hours to make ends meet.

One and a half to two earner households have a very low risk of poverty, part-time work does not protect couple families or lone parents from poverty.

Children in lone parent families still have a substantial risk of poverty even if their parent works full time. Almost one third of children whose parents are self employed (a growing sector of the workforce) live in poverty

Changes to the benefits and tax system (including universal credit) incentivise those on low incomes to increase working hours while endorsing the traditional breadwinner role for the better off.

Poverty reduction strategies seem to be focused in encouraging all parents to work full time. The planned and recent expansion of childcare provision is increasingly linked to parental employment rather than child development. At the same time governments are also promoting programmes encouraging positive parenting and parents spending “quality time” with children. Running across the debate is an increasing confusion between the constraints that low incomes place on peoples’ parenting choices and actual neglect/harmful activities by parents.

Only 25% of parents were content with the balance between their home and working lives, 77% reported that work cut into the time they had available to helping children with homework, taking them to clubs and putting them to bed.
When asked how they would like to strike a better balance 27% would work less hours, more than a quarter saying they would take a pay cut to do so. 22% would give up work altogether, 22% would like to work from home some of the time and 21% would like flexible hours.

The survey went on to ask what working hours were thought to be reasonable for parents per week. Interestingly there was no clear gender social class or political persuasion link to responses. For many the one full time one part time working parent is now deemed the norm. participants thought it was reasonable for a lone parent to work more hours than “the carer” parent in a two parent household. Respondents also felt it was more reasonable for lone parents to work longer hours and by the time children were 3 very few felt it was reasonable for lone parents not be in work. They did though not expect both parents in a two parent family to be in full time work at this stage.

In focus groups it was clear that most think the balance of work/childcare is deeply personal, it was also felt that debates about working parents don’t focus enough on the needs of the child which it was widely believed should be put back in the picture. Parents frequently asked why parenting was not valued despite its “societal importance and manifold rewards” As UNISON’s charter states “While childcare should enable parents to work its focus must be on what’s best for children and their development”.

Key points from the CPAG report

Affordable quality childcare is essential, this means not just nurseries but also around school hours and summer break for older children.

Children also need relaxed quality time with parents: expanded childcare is not a substitute for this.

Vital role for tax credits in supporting those working less than full time but those in full-time work should have a living wage and not require benefits to live.

Flexible working can be a double edged sword: flexibility can be good but zero hours and short notice demands for extra or just insecure weekly hours difficult when childcare has to be booked and paid for regularly and in advance. It doesn’t mean the same thing for those at the top and bottom of the wage scale. Parents need predictable hours.

Wage progression is an essential part of a poverty reduction strategy so we need more childcare support for those undertaking training.

Working more hours helps people earn more money but cannot forget the importance of decent pay rates
Value of benefits must be restored to pre 2010 levels.

In work poverty is produced by three things: levels of pay, hours worked and level of in work benefits. Need to tackle all three and ensure that parents have the time levels of income to allow them to spend time with their own children.

UNISON’s Childcare Charter is available here

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