Britain's parents need better work, says CPAG

By agency reporter
November 2, 2017

Low and middle-income parents want to work, want permanent jobs with a sense of purpose and put a premium on job security but inadequate pay, a lack of affordable childcare and poor opportunities for progression are holding them back, a survey by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and Working Families finds. 

More than two fifths (43 per cent) of part-time workers want to work more hours but are prevented from doing so, and working parents want permanent jobs (71 per cent).

The UK unemployment rate currently stands at 4.3 per cent, the lowest since 1975.

Key findings:

Struggling families cannot meet costs:

  • Almost half (47 per cent) of working parents with an annual household income under £30,000 said they did not have enough money to support their families. 

Working parents rate job security as highly as pay:

  • Almost three quarters (74 per cent) ranked job security as very important to them, including 36 per cent who gave this the highest possible score of ‘extremely important’. Similarly, 74 per cent cited pay as very important, including 34 per centwho said it was extremely important to them.
  • Hours worked in a job are a top priority for 72 per cent, (especially women, 36 per cent of whom gave hours worked a top score, compared to 17 per cent of men).
  • A sense of purpose is a top concern for 64 per cent. 
  • 61 per cent rated flexible working as a top priority.   
  • Opportunities for career progression were a top priority for half of working parents; but just over one quarter (26 per cent) said their job didn’t offer good opportunities for progression.

Many part time parents want to work more but cannot do so: 

  • 43 per cent of parents working part time want to work more hours but can’t.  Parenting responsibilities are the biggest reason given for not being able to work more (65 per cent), but the cost of childcare is also a big barrier (ranked high by 61 per cent).  54 per cent said more hours are not available to them and rated this as a major reason.
  • Almost one third (32 per cent) of working parents (full and part-time) said they didn’t have enough work to support their family. This was more likely to be true for younger parents (43 per cent of 18-34-year olds, compared to 27 per cent of 35-54-year olds and nine per cent of those aged over 55).

High childcare costs keep people out of work: 

  • Just over one fifth (21 per cent) of unemployed parents wanted to work but found childcare prohibitively expensive.  16 per cent couldn’t find childcare for the hours they needed.

Becoming a parent jeopardises work progression:

  • Parents returning to the workforce after having a child struggle to retain their previous pay level and job grade. Almost half (47 per cent) had to take a salary drop, 43 per cent had to take a lower position and 45 per cent said inflexible hours or work schedules were a problem.

A good work-life balance eludes many parents:

  • One third of working parents said they work too much and don’t’ have enough time with family.
  • The highest-ranking options for improving the work/life balance of ordinary working families were: security of income (a top three choice for 41 per cent), a higher salary (a top three choice for 58 per cent) and more flexible hours/schedule (a top three choice for 41 per cent).


The survey findings are published to coincide with the launch, by CPAG and Working Families, of Britain Works, a programme of work which aims to inform conversations between both charities and UK employers to identify the solutions that will improve the working lives of the UK’s low and middle-income parents.  A Britain Works report on the increasing challenges of work for low-income families is also published today. The report identifies how the world of work is changing and how this is affecting moves into work, progression in work, work-life balance and the rewards from work.

Commenting on the survey findings, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham, said, “Our findings show Britain wants to work. Parents are saying they want job security, decent pay and good promotion prospects but too often these elude them. Pay is often low. Extra hours in a job aren’t always there. Childcare costs are sky-high. And too often parents looking to progress in work hit a brick wall.   

“We are launching Britain Works to address these problems and want a wide range of employers and parents to get involved. But we also need action from Government.  Nearly half of the parents we polled with a household income under £30,000 said they didn’t have enough to support their family. The return of inflation will stretch budgets further. The Chancellor can help in this month’s Budget. A good first step would be to pause and fix universal credit and restore its ability to make work pay for families.”

Commenting on the survey findings, Chief Executive of Working Families Sarah Jackson, said, “Almost half of the low paid parents in our survey say they don’t have enough money to support their families; and a third of parents we spoke to also say they do not have enough time to spend with them. Clearly work is not a route out of poverty for many families, and can in fact impose a new form of time poverty which prevents families from thriving. 

“What’s also clear is that working parents value both job security and work flexibility.  We want to encourage employers to join us in thinking differently about work design and flexible hiring, so that they can find not just the right person for the job, but provide the right job for the person.  So we can start making work work for everyone.”

Scott Abrahams, senior vice president at Mastercard, who hosted an expert roundtable event to inform the development of the report, said, “This study reinforces the fact that parents have a huge amount to give businesses around the UK, but in many cases simply aren’t being given the right opportunities or working arrangements. It is important employers look at more ways to support working parents, whether that’s through returnships, flexible working, childcare support or maternity and paternity leave policies, which our employees tell us they really value. By ensuring working parents have the opportunities to succeed, we believe the benefits to business and wider society will be considerable.”

Read the discusssion paper Britain Works here

* Child Poverty Action Group



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