Saturday 16 January 2021 / 7:37 AM Anneliese Dodds

Labour calls on Rishi Sunak to deliver flexible furlough for working parents as evidence shows mothers bearing the brunt of childcare duties

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has today stepped up her calls on counterpart Rishi Sunak to amend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to give working parents the legal right to request paid flexible furlough.

 

In a letter to the Chancellor, Dodds cites a new survey from the Trades Union Congress showing that working mothers are bearing the brunt of childcare duties during the current lockdown, with a quarter taking annual leave, nearly one in five having to reduce their working hours and one in 14 taking unpaid leave to look after children.

 

Dodds calls it “particularly concerning” that 7 in 10 eligible mothers who asked for furlough had their request refused by their employer, a situation she says risks forcing many parents out of work entirely.

 

On Monday 11 January Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the government to introduce a legal and enforceable right for working parents to request paid flexible furlough, with employers expected to grant this request except in exceptional circumstances.

 

The letter from Dodds calls on the Chancellor to adopt this proposal and take further action to support working parents, including:

  • Changing the eligibility rules so that parents and other workers who started new jobs after October 31 can access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
  • Investigating the impact that employer contributions to National Insurance and pension contributions may be having on how many employers are using the scheme.

 

Labour is also calling on the Chancellor to:

  • Rethink plans to change funding for nurseries, childminders and pre-schools that could see 25% of providers close within six months.
  • Extend the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment so low-income parents of self-isolating children can receive it once schools are open for all children again.

 

Under the current rules of the furlough scheme, no one who started a new job after 31 October is eligible for the CJRS.

 

But in the third quarter of 2020, 500,000 people changed jobs – many after that cut-off date. Some will now be denied access to furlough during the latest lockdown.

 

Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

 

“Evidence is mounting that the latest lockdown is putting parents – especially mothers – under severe financial pressure.

 

“The Chancellor can fix this today by introducing a legal right for working parents to request paid flexible furlough.

 

“That’s the right thing to do for working parents and the right way to secure the economy by protecting family incomes and supporting businesses through this lockdown.”

 

“No more incompetence and indecision. We need action to secure our economy, protect our NHS and rebuild our country.”

 

Notes to Editors

 

Letter from Anneliese Dodds to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, 15 January 2021.

Dear Chancellor of the Exchequer,

 

Thank you for your letter of 7 January. I welcome the change that your department has made to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) guidance. However, I remain concerned about several remaining issues with the scheme. This follows worrying new evidence that has come to light on the impact that school closures are having on the employment of parents, particularly mothers.

 

Yesterday, the Trades Union Congress published results from a survey of working mothers, collected between the 7thand 10th January[1].The survey found that mothers are being particularly badly affected by school closures. A quarter are taking annual leave to manage childcare, nearly one in five have been forced to reduce their working hours and one in 14 are currently on unpaid leave and therefore receiving no income from work.

 

Furlough via the CJRS should be an option for the vast majority of these mothers, but 40 per cent are unaware they are eligible and 78 per cent of those mothers affected by school closures have not been offered furlough by their employer. It is particularly concerning that 7 in 10 eligible mothers who asked for furlough had their request refused by their employer. Left to continue, this situation risks forcing many parents out of work altogether.

 

On Monday 11th, the Leader of the Opposition argued that there should be a legal and enforceable right for working parents to request paid flexible furlough, with employers expected to grant this request except in exceptional circumstances.

 

I am calling on you to adopt this proposal, and to bring forward the cut-off date for furlough eligibility so that the many parents and others who have changed jobs since October 31st can make use of the scheme.

 

I am also again calling on you and your department to provide an evidence-led assessment of the impact that employer contributions to National Insurance and pension contributions, which were not part of the original CJRS design, may be having on employers’ uptake of the scheme.

 

I hope you consider the above proposals and look forward to receiving your reply.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Anneliese Dodds

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

  • An Office for National Statistics survey from the 23rd April (covering 3-13 April in Lockdown 1) asks how Covid is affecting people’s lives, with 22,253,812 people reporting it affecting their work (table 2b). Table 3 shows that 17.9% – or 3,983,432 – of the people reporting an effect on work saying it was down to working round childcare responsibilities. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/datasets/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritaindata/current
  • Between April and June 2020, 625,000 people changed jobs. Between July and September 2020, 520,000 people changed jobs. https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/datasets/labourforcesurveyflowsestimatesx02
  • Labour’s full calls for support through the next England-wide lockdown can be found here: https://labour.org.uk/press/labour-demands-absent-chancellor-makes-full-statement-on-economic-support-to-parliament/
  • Labour’s full calls for support for those required to self-isolate include:
    • Improve the communications around the £500 Test and Trace Support payment so all those who are eligible know they can receive it.
    • Extend the scope of the payment so low-income parents of self-isolating children can receive it.
    • Ensure that councils are able to give discretionary payments to all those who need them, including by suspending the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ rule.
    • Ensure that councils have the resources they need to continue making discretionary payments under the Test and Trace Support scheme.
    • Address the inadequacy of Statutory Sick Pay – which the Health Secretary admits is not enough to live on – and is acting as a disincentive for people to do the right thing and self-isolate.
  • Labour estimates that government plans to change funding for nurseries, childminders and pre-schools to match current low levels of attendance from January 2021 could result in nearly 19,000 childcare providers being forced to close their doors within six months, with over 30,000 at risk of closure by next Christmas. https://labour.org.uk/press/government-telling-nurseries-to-stay-open-at-high-capacity-or-close-forever-says-labour/
  • A survey carried out by the Early Years Alliance in November 2020 found that 25% of childcare providers believed that they would cease to be viable within six months if the government change their approach to early years funding from this month so that it is based on current occupancy rather than pre-Covid occupancy (as it has been since the start of the pandemic).
  • 56% (28%+ 28%) of providers say [the funding changes] would have a negative or very negative impact on them – and of those, nearly half (45%) don’t think they would be able to remain viable for more than 6 months (5% + 16% + 24% = 45%) – data below:

 

If the government goes ahead with plans to base early entitlement funding on actual attendance as of January 2021, rather than basing it on pre-Covid attendance levels, how long do you anticipate being able to remain viable?

 

 

Less than a month 5%
1 – 3 months 16%
4 – 6 months 24%
7 – 9 months 13%
10 – 12 months 18%
More than a year 24%

 

Source: Early Years Alliance