The UK Government introduced the Furlough Scheme to support Furlough Rights as a response to their instruction to work from home at the start of Covid-19 restrictions in March 2020.
For those who were unable to work from home, employers were to, temporarily, release them from their duties while the Government would pay 80% of their salary or wages. This is the concept; however, the reality is proving to be very different. Now in a third national lockdown and a second national school closure, many, many working mothers, who have applied for furlough this time round, have had these applications rejected. A recent survey shows that almost one in four (71%) have had their furlough applications denied, which may for many lead to unmanageable debts.
The survey, run by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and parenthood campaigner, Mother Pukka, asked working mothers to share their experiences of the latest round of lockdown and school closures. The survey sought to understand how mothers were juggling the dual demands of work and childcare during this set of restrictions.
Over 50,000 mums got in touch, with just over 70% reporting that their request to be furloughed had been refused. Almost four out of five (78%) working mothers have never had furlough offered to them and two out of five (40%) had no idea that parents who had been impacted by the closure of educational and childcare settings (nurseries) could participate in the furlough programme. The Government have decreed that parents and carers can request furlough if your parental and caring responsibilities – as a consequence of the coronavirus – mean that you cannot work in work or from home or if you need to temporarily reduce your working hours as a result.
The Government created the Furlough Scheme in order to prevent widespread layoffs and redundancies as a result of the coronavirus. It has been extended a number of times and is due to run, currently, to the end of April 2021. This means that employers can furlough staff who are unable to work because of coronavirus restrictions-related childcare issues. However, the TUC is reporting that working mothers are missing out on furlough because they are not aware of the scheme and it is not been actively promoted to them as an option.
Almost all of the survey respondents reported increased anxiety levels during the latest lockdown, with nine out of ten feeling greater levels of stress. Almost half (48%) said that they were worried that their status as parents would mean that they would be penalised by employers because of their increased childcare responsibilities. A quarter of working mothers were balancing childcare needs by using their annual leave, although 18% had been able to reduce their hours and under 10% (7%) have had to take unpaid leave from work to manage. Almost half (44%) of those who responded were fearful of that taking time off work would negatively affect their family finances.
In an attempt to help working mums, the TUC is calling on the Government to issue greater protection and bring in the right for sectors of society, who cannot work because of coronavirus restrictions, to be offered furlough. As well as parents, this also includes those who are shielding and deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable. The TUC does also ask that other options are explored first – including changes to working hours, paid leave, a change of work responsibilities and carrying out their job from home – before being furloughed as the last option.
The TUC is specifically lobbying the government to introduce the following additional rights on a temporary basis:
- The right to flexible working for parents
- Parents to be given ten days’ paid carers’ leave
- Increased sick pay to match the Living Wage across the board so that they can afford to self-isolate if required to
- Access to the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme for parents who have recently become self-employed
Are you a working parent? Here’s what you need to do…
Make sure that you know your rights under the coronavirus job retention scheme. These may be different to your rights under normal circumstances so do check the UK government website to check your latest rights.
When you are familiar with your rights, talk to your employer about what options they could offer you. You can discuss flexibility within your role, for example reduced working hours, additional paid leave, working from home or changing responsibilities.
The Treasury is calling upon employers to make fair and responsible decisions, citing that employers do know that they can furlough employees who have childcare issues, due to school closures, as well as those who are shielding.