NEW RESEARCH from Working Families, the UK’s national charity for working parents and carers, in partnership with law firm Pinsent Masons, has revealed the challenges that lower-income families in the UK face as they balance work and caring responsibilities.

The Working Families Index 2023: Spotlight on lower-income families reveals that many working parents on lower incomes are forced to go into debt, reduce their hours, or leave the workforce altogether due to problems affording and accessing childcare. The report also shows that working parents on lower incomes take far less parental leave than the average parent and are often locked out of the flexible working arrangements they desperately need.

Based on a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 working parents with a total household income of £50,000 or less, the research found that:

  • Four in 10 working parents on lower incomes have gone into debt to pay for childcare.
  • Over half of working parents on lower incomes (51 per cent) have had to reduce their working hours to manage childcare needs. Women and Black parents especially are feeling the brunt of this, with 58 per cent and 60 per cent respectively of those surveyed having to reduce their hours.
  • One in five working parents on lower incomes had to leave the workforce altogether to manage childcare needs.
  • Working mothers on lower incomes take four months’ less maternity leave than the UK average.
  • Working parents on lower incomes are twice as likely to have an informal flexible working request rejected than the average parent.
  • Parents on lower incomes have significantly less access to hybrid or remote working arrangements than parents on higher incomes.
  • Having access to flexible working supports parents on lower incomes. Those who had successfully requested flexible working were a third less likely to have to quit their job to manage childcare, 25 per cent less likely to fall into debt, and half as likely to have had their mental health negatively impacted due to the difficulty of accessing childcare than those who had had their request rejected.

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive of Working Families, said: “This research reveals what we suspected: that for many parents on lower incomes, work simply isn’t working. No parent should have to reduce their hours, leave the workforce altogether, or go into debt to pay for childcare. No parent should have to miss valuable time with their new baby because statutory levels of pay aren’t enough to survive on. And no parent should be prevented from accessing flexible working just because they don’t work at a desk in a knowledge-based industry.

“What can be done to support working parents on lower incomes? The solution starts with flexible working. It is clear that flexible working is no longer a nice-to-have; it is a must-have, particularly for those at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis. Not only can it enable parents and carers who would otherwise be locked out of the labour market to work; it also helps families better manage childcare, freeing up valuable income.

“Alongside measures to increase the supply of high-quality, part-time and flexible jobs in the labour market, Working Families is also calling for affordable and accessible childcare; more inclusive, better-paid leave for new mothers and fathers; and greater job security and advance notice of schedules for shift workers. This will support parents on lower incomes to thrive at work at at home.”

Co-head of Equality Law Pinsent Masons, Kate Dodd, said: “It’s clear that the UK’s approach to childcare and access to flexible, agile working requires a significant rethink and fresh perspective backed up by legislation which serves to enable every working family to succeed. Opportunities to work flexibly and to benefit from accessible childcare cannot be available only to families who are already financially comfortable. It’s vital that Government acts on the important and sobering issues demonstrated by the participants of this survey and takes steps to improve the experience of low income working families in the UK. This is a business issue as well as a moral imperative as all businesses need a thriving and diverse workforce to maintain resilience through the cost-of-living crisis.”

* Read: Working Families Index 2023: Spotlight on lower-income families here.

* Source: Working Families