Government mulls measures to help parents and carers in the workplace

Experts suggest greater transparency could persuade firms to offer more generous parental pay 

The government is considering whether it should impose a duty on employers to think about whether jobs could be done flexibly and to publish details of policies that affect parents. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy revealed yesterday that it would consult on whether organisations with more than 250 staff should be required to publish their parental leave and pay policies “so job applicants can make informed decisions about whether they can combine the role with caring for their family”.

The department raised concerns that many job candidates would fear being discriminated against if they asked potential employers about their policies for working parents. 

And in an effort aimed at helping “parents and carers in the workforce”, the government said it “will consider creating a duty for employers to consider whether a job can be done flexibly, and make that clear when advertising”.

“Working flexibly helps people to balance their work and home lives and is vital in creating an inclusive economy where those with caring responsibilities can continue working,” the government statement added. “It also gives employers access to a wider pool of talent and enables better matching of applicants and jobs.”

Croner associate director Paul Holcroft noted the measures to disclose parental pay and leave policies could encourage employers to increase their offerings above the statutory minimum. 

“Given the added exposure that the new measures could bring, some employers could feel pressure to review their current practices to be able to compete with other employers,” he said. 

Julia Waltham, head of policy and campaigns at Working Families, agreed she hoped increased disclosure would “ignite a ‘race to the top’”.

“It is important, however, to remember that parental leave policies aren’t wholly indicative of gender equality and work-life balance within a workplace,” she added. “It’s a genuinely family friendly workplace culture that’s key to unlocking parents’ potential and delivering benefits for businesses.”

The government’s proposals to publish parental policies mirror those Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson brought under a private members’ bill in June. However, the bill stalled on its progress to becoming law when its scheduled second reading was adjourned until late November.

Swinson said today she was “delighted” the government would be consulting on the proposals, adding: “It is a national scandal that each year in the UK 54,000 women lose their jobs because of maternity and pregnancy discrimination. Conservatives must listen and deliver real change.

“The government is right to consult on this but it must take swift action in the interest of all working parents.”

Some employers have decided to voluntarily disclose their policies for parents. Last week, it was reported that 10 prominent businesses – including management consultancy Accenture, insurer Direct Line Group and law firm Linklaters – had agreed to post their policies online. 

Meanwhile, Jemma Mouland, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, stressed that the proposals surrounding flexible working would benefit others besides parents. 

“It's crucial that we do better on flexible working, because we know it helps carers and people with health conditions to remain in work for longer,” said Mouland. “This enables them to keep earning an income, save for their retirement and retain a sense of meaning and purpose.”

A YouGov survey, commissioned by McDonald’s and published in August, revealed just 6 per cent of workers now toil away for the traditional 9am to 5pm. Two-thirds (66 per cent) of UK employees also said they would prefer to start work before 9am if given the choice.