Policies to persuade parents to find work as a means to tackle family poverty have a downside and are sending the wrong signal. Five years of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation with 19 separate projects has revealed a lot of tired parents, a large amount of dissatisfaction, and a desire to cut down working hours, or even give up paid work altogether. The report, ‘Work and family life in the 21st century’, warns policy makers that the accompanying implication that paid childcare is somehow ‘better’ than parental care runs contrary to the instincts of many parents.The report argues that parents of both sexes support action to help them put their families first, and that stereotyped images of child-centred mothers and work-focused fathers are increasingly out-of-date. More than half all fathers work more than a 40-hour week, including 30 per cent who routinely exceed the 48 hours a week limit set by the EU Working Time Directive. Employed parents are more likely to work outside the normal ‘nine to five’ than other workers. Some 53 per cent of mothers, 54 per cent of lone mothers and 79 per cent of fathers frequently work at atypical times of day. More than half all fathers, and over a third of mothers work at least one Saturday a month, while a quarter of mothers and nearly a third of fathers work on Sundays.
Workplace studies found that a growing number of employers are now offering a range of work-life policies. Surveys of employers and their staff provided evidence of a ‘business case’ for flexible arrangements based on lower staff turnover and greater productivity. There were also encouraging signs that employees’ career prospects were not damaged if they made use of flexible working arrangements.