Lack of flexible working disadvantages mothers

The limited numbers of employers offering flexible working hours is contributing to significant employment disadvantages for women, particularly mothers.

The Equalities Review’s final report, Fairness and Freedom, published today, has said that despite more women than ever being in employment and achieving higher educational qualifications, there are still obstacles in their way. A woman who works full time earns just 83 pence for every pound that is earned by a man and becoming a mother is cited in the report as the predominant reason for women’s inequality in the labour market.

While the report found that government policies such as the right to request flexible working; the extension of paid maternity and paternity leave; the introduction of working tax credits and the increase in childcare places are being taken up and making an impact, it also found that comprehensive family-friendly packages are still largely confined to the public sector and large private sector employers, with most employees in small- and medium-sized enterprises missing out.

There are also still shortfalls in the number of employers offering flexible working and childcare support.

The findings also show that 70% of fathers say they would like to be more involved with their child, but due to factors such as men generally being a couple’s higher earner and being limited to two week’s paid paternity, the report said: "it remains unlikely that many fathers will take time out of the labour market to raise a child". The report said that plans to introduce additional parental leave and pay should allow eligible fathers the option to take up to 26 weeks additional paid paternity leave during the second six month’s of their child’s life. The report also†urges for there to be regular reviews of parental leave extensions.

Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equalities Review Panel, made recommendations in the report for ten steps to greater equality. These include a new framework to measure equality, including an ‘equality scorecard’ for employers to get a true picture of equality gaps, and†new flexibility for employers to use positive action to tackle inequality.

The review recommended that the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which is due to launch in October 2007, should report progress on Phillips’ ten steps within its triennial State of the Nation report.

Commenting on the findings, Jenny Watson, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: "Our own work has shown that achieving equality for women at work is far from done, and it’s good to have this recognised in the Equalities Review. But today, three in four people say it should be as easy for men to take time off for caring responsibilities as women, indicating the challenge of balancing work and family isn’t only an issue that affects women. If we are to make these recommendations fit the future, part of the solution must be extending the right to request flexible working to everyone."