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The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, for initiating this timely debate. Like others in your Lordships' House, I very much look forward to the two maiden speeches.

I was glad to support the aim of the recent Work and Families Bill which was to ensure that care givers in our society can better balance their home and work commitments. I strongly supported the Government's intention to extend the right to ask for flexible working to those carers of working age who struggle to balance their work and caring roles and whose needs were highlighted last week in Carers Week 2006.

However, according to the 2006 TUC report, Out of Time, the United Kingdom has an extensive long hours culture with around 3.6 million employees regularly working more than 48 hours per week, and almost 5 million people working on average an extra day a week in unpaid overtime. The Mothers' Union has drawn attention to the detrimental effect that this is having on individuals, families, and, indeed, society
 
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in general. The Equal Opportunities Commission published this week research on the changes in fatherhood, Twenty-first Century Dad—quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale—showing that seven out of 10 fathers would like to be more involved in childcare than they currently are, and that a third of working fathers work 48 hours or more per week.

I have to admit that the Church of England is not immune to this. As the Bishop of Hulme pointed out recently, many clergy and bishops work 70 to 80 hours a week, and some believe that there is no limit to their availability. This leads to some clergy families feeling that they come second to the job and suffer as a result. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury drew attention last weekend to the important role of fathers at a conference on fatherhood organised by FLAME, a network within the Church of England working for family life and marriage enrichment. He emphasised the importance of "society and church" supporting and nurturing long-term fatherhood so that fathers can provide, along with mothers, an anchorage of quality of being, stability and taking responsibility for their children. Being involved in the caring and upbringing of children rather than working all the hours of the day is one way of doing this. Yet the TUC report shows that employers look more favourably on requests to work flexibly submitted by female members of staff.

Working Families receives many calls from low-paid workers whose employers are not willing to offer flexible working patterns. For example, in its briefing it mentions a postal worker who had to leave his job as his employer would not change his shift patterns to fit in with his childcare needs. The family needed two incomes and his wife was unable to drop the children off at school, so he had asked either to change shifts or to finish earlier. Neither request was granted as there were currently no vacancies on other shifts and they were unwilling to let him leave early, even temporarily. The man is now claiming jobseeker's allowance while he looks for something new, but money is very tight.

I have said before that I regret that the Government did not go far enough in the recent Work and Families Bill to allow the right to ask for flexible working to both fathers and mothers caring for children up to the age of 18. The Mothers' Union, which has campaigned consistently on this, believes that if flexible working was to become much more mainstream and not only associated with mothers of young children, fathers would have more opportunities to make the contribution to family life that they wish. In addition, mothers would not have to reduce their working hours so significantly, thus exacerbating the gender pay gap, in order to care for the children while fathers are working much longer hours.

I urge the Government to reconsider their opposition and to introduce the right to request flexible working for both mothers and fathers of children up to 18. This would give couples an opportunity to establish an equal partnership and find
 
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the best way to share their responsibilities throughout the childhood of their offspring and to model a good work/life balance.

12.19 pm

Baroness Kingsmill: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, for introducing a debate on a subject which has been of interest to me for some years.

My background as an employment lawyer and the work I have undertaken for the Government in chairing, first, a review of women's pay and employment in 2001 and, following this, an inquiry in 2003 into human capital management, has given me some insight into the workings of the labour market in the UK. I am pleased, therefore, in this, my first speech in your Lordships' House, to be able to make a contribution to this debate on the important issue of work/life balance.

I had not intended to speak so soon after my introduction last week. I had planned to sit quietly on the Benches at the back until I was a little more familiar with the ways of the House. However, the kindness and encouragement that I have received from all sides, coupled with the relevance of the subject matter of the debate to my professional work over the past few years, has enabled me to overcome my reticence. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all of those who have offered help and guidance since my introduction—in particular to those such as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who scooped me up as I wandered lost in the corridors, and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who has been most patient as I have struggled to come to grips with the complexities of your Lordships' House.

Work/life balance means different things to different people, but it is essentially about the way we work catching up with the way we live. In the 1950s and 1960s, most employers got a two-for-one deal. For every employee, usually a man, they got an extra person, usually a wife or mother, for free, who looked after the home and children so that their paid employee could work all the hours necessary. This is not the case anymore: most households cannot afford, or do not wish, to work like that; and 46 per cent of the labour market is now female and this continues to grow. The workplace needs to adapt to the way people now live, and this means creating a work environment that recognises that most people have to manage some kind of balance between paid work and the rest of life. The division of labour is not as simple as it used to be for most families.

Work/life balance is not just about part-time mums, it is about older workers, younger workers, men and women, mothers and fathers—different balances for different people at different stages of their lives. For example, the labour market is ageing. This creates challenges around eldercare for some people, who are now nicknamed the "sandwich" generation, having both childcare and eldercare responsibilities. The ageing labour market also creates challenges around retirement and pensions, as many people need to work
 
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longer in order to maintain a sufficiently high income. Many may not wish or be able to work full time but would rather work more flexibly.

Expectations of work have also changed over time. Work/life balance has featured, for the past four years, in the top three of most graduate wish-lists of the things they look for in a prospective employer. At all ages, people are increasingly expecting to be able to combine paid work with other things, whether they be interests, family responsibilities or simply seeing friends. A survey by the Work Foundation in 2003 found an equal spread between those with and without children in the 63 per cent of people who agreed that they would like to improve their work/life balance. Work needs to be thought about over the lifecycle better to reflect the way that people live and their different expectations at different stages of their lives.

Another important aspect of work/life balance is about increasing UK productivity. Our long-hours culture, which has already been referred to, has not led to an increase in our output per worker; we lag well behind our US and major European competitors. Although the direct causal link between increased productivity and work/life balance is difficult to establish precisely, there are important indicators such as absenteeism, which the CBI estimates costs the UK some £12 billion a year.

Individuals who have more control and autonomy over how, when and where they work are healthier and happier and so less likely to take time off work. Certainly, when I was a mother of young children in the early 1980s it was quite unacceptable in my law firm to work flexibly so that I could take care of my children. So, I took sick leave when they needed me and tried to make up the time later. But I always felt guilty. How I wish I could have had a more flexible working environment which recognised my work/life balance needs for the all-too-short period of my children's childhood. It was also ironic that, at the time, I was fighting on behalf of trade union clients for just those flexible policies which my own firm was unwilling to introduce.

Work/life balance policies that enable people to manage their lives more comfortably also help companies to manage their business more efficiently. One large financial institution has recently found that where it introduced flexible working for those in direct contact with customers, customer satisfaction with the service they received significantly increased. It is much nicer to deal with people who are happier with their work/life balance. BT's experience has been that its home-workers are more satisfied with their work/life balance and it has discovered that there has been an increase of 31 per cent in productivity.

In addition, work/life balance can contribute to individuals' health and well-being by giving them more control and autonomy. Michael Marmot's well known work Status Syndrome, which looked at Whitehall civil servants over several years, found that those in jobs with lower autonomy and control were much more likely to suffer from health problems: the security guard is more likely to suffer a heart attack than the
 
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chief executive, regardless of background. He found that work, and the way we are managed at work, has a significant impact on health and well-being, and work/life balance is one component of that.

Certainly, the incidence of stress has been shown to increase with work intensification. Workplace stress is costly, both in money and the overall well-being of our society. A more enlightened and flexible approach to the way we work, to enable us to live more productive and happier lives, is an important goal for us all.

12.26 pm


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