Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) (PL 35)

  Surveys show that most full-time working mothers are dissatisfied with the amount of time they spend with their children; of a sample of full-time working mothers in professional/managerial jobs two-thirds felt they did not see enough of their children.[94] 40 per cent of women define a good parent as "always being there" and 35 per cent as one who "spends time with children".[95] A report by Social Community Planning Research[96] showed that 64 per cent of an exclusively female sample thought that women should be at home with children until they reach school age.

  Over the last two decades there has been a sharp decline in the amount of time parents spend caring for their children. Time spent with children has declined by as much as 40 per cent within a generation.[97] The pressures of trying to balance the conflicting demands of home and work can lead to stress, communication failures, and relationship breakdown.[98] Work puts strains on couple relationships where there is no time for nurturing them and the most apparent function of these relationships becomes that of "coping" with the everyday logistics of an overworked household.[99] While a number of employers have adopted policies which support parents it is not always clear whether children have benefited.

  In a survey undertaken in 1997 by the NSPCC of 998 children aged 8 to 15,[100] children stated clearly that a good parent is someone who spends time with them, and this is one of the ways that they show they care (63 per cent). Similarly when considering children's views on qualities important in a good mother and father, taking time to talk to children and spend time with them scored 76 per cent for mothers and 78 per cent for fathers.

  The lessons from around the world show that the best ways of achieving a healthy balance between the work mothers and fathers do and the care of their children is through child friendly employment practices which seek to achieve equal parenthood. All the evidence suggests that child friendly policies which allow more time and energy to be devoted to parenting will benefit children and their parents—by creating more stable families, by reducing family breakdown, by ensuring children are better supported in education and by helping to divert young people from crime.

  There are also other important benefits for business—evidence from family friendly employers shows parental leave reduces staff turnover, increases employees' loyalty and through reducing stress, cuts down absenteeism and improves productivity. And it can benefit government by helping to avoid costs arising from delinquency, crime, education failure and ill-health.

  To maximise the benefits for children, there are three lessons demonstrated by the most successful parental leave schemes:

    —  parental leave should be part of a package of other child friendly policies such as high quality affordable childcare, support for parents and public education about their rights.

    —  there must be flexibility for both parents to allow them to match work and family commitments to their needs. It should be possible to take leave either full-time, part-time or a day at a time. And this leave should allow working parents to reduce their working hours with a corresponding cut in pay if they wish. But there should also be a family leave entitlement with a non-transferable portion of leave for each parent—to encourage the father's involvement in childrearing.

    —  there must be a high level of earnings replacement together with job protection if the leave is to benefit low paid workers as well as higher paid workers, and to involve men as well as women.

  In the NSPCC's view the major flaw in the government's very welcome plans to implement the parental leave directive is their failure to provide paid parental leave. Rights for parents are worthless if you can't afford to claim them. The government's current plans will discriminate against the poor. They will only allow the well off to take advantage of unpaid parental leave.

  If parental leave is unpaid in the UK, the evidence suggests take-up will be very low. Earlier this year a TUC poll showed that 85 per cent of parents didn't intend to make full use of the new right. Even the government's own estimates suggest that only 2 per cent, 1 in 50, of eligible fathers and one in three eligible mothers will take parental leave over a five-year period.

  Current proposals contained in the DTI consultation on parental leave propose quite limited flexibility for the taking of unpaid parental leave. In the NSPCC's view, this lack of flexibility will make it hard for parents to use the new law to help them juggle the pressures of work and family and mean take-up even lower than the expected 2 per cent for fathers and 35 per cent for mothers.

  In the current draft proposals parental leave—giving both parents three months unpaid leave to care for each child under five—is only to be available in blocks of a week or more, is only available to parents who have babies after 15.12.99, and parents must give a minimum of four weeks notice that they need it, or double the amount of leave needed.

  If parental leave is to be unpaid the NSPCC proposes that at least it should be flexible, and would recommend the following:

    —  Parental leave should be available to all those with children under eight.

    —  It should be able to be taken in blocks of a day (not a week as proposed).

    —  21 days notice, as in maternity leave arrangements, should be adequate in every case, especially if the employer has the right to postpone parental leave.


1 September 1999

94   Parents at Work (1995). Time Work and the Family: Tackling the Long Hours Culture. Parents at Work, London. Back

95   New Ways to Work (1996). Women: setting new priorities. Whirlpool Foundation Study, Part Two. Back

96   Social Community Planning Research (1990) quoted in Penelope Leach (1994) Children First, p72. Penguin, London Back

97   Mattox, WR Jr (1990). The Family Time Famine. Family Policy, Vol 3, 1. The Family Research Council. Back

98   Walker, J. (1995). The Cost of Communication Breakdown. BT Forum. Back

99   Research on Couples' Adaptation to change. One Plus One, addressing the Parents at work 1995 Annual Conference, London. Back

100   Ghate, D, and Daniels, A. (1997), Talking About My Generation. NSPCC, London. Back

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