Big Issue Vendor

Working parents seek childcare support after being denied furlough

The Government is being urged to do more for parents who have been denied furlough and are struggling with childcare

Scores of parents have flocked to a charity’s helpline seeking advice after being turned down for furlough and struggling to find childcare, the Big Issue has been told. 

Charity Working Families, which supports people with caring responsibilities in the workplace, said it had received almost 200 queries since schools closed in the third national lockdown last week. 

Two-thirds of these requests were parents asking about furlough, the charity said, with many denied it by their employer.

Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

The Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended by the chancellor until the end of April, currently allows bosses to furlough parents who can’t work due to a lack of childcare. But many parents are being turned down and told they must take unpaid leave. 

Unions say the Government hasn’t done enough to advertise that parents can be furloughed to look after children. 

Last week, there were reports that Jaguar Land Rover employees in Halewood were told childcare leave would be unpaid despite this school closures due to the national lockdown. Some workers expressed concern they need to use food banks and could struggle with mortgage payments. 

Jane van Zyl, chief executive of Working Families, said: “Since the school closure announcement, over two-thirds of the queries we’ve received have been from parents asking about furlough, many of whom have been denied it by their employer.

“It is clearly not enough to rely on employers’ goodwill to support working parents: the Government must tell employers that they are expected to allow parents to use the furlough scheme while schools are closed.” 

A poll of 50,000 working mums released today by the TUC found seven in ten requests for furlough were turned down. The union said many parents were missing out on the “financial lifeline” of furlough as it wasn’t promoted enough. 

The TUC said mums were being left in the “impossible situation” of reducing their hours, taking unpaid or annual leave, or even quitting their job altogether.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the Government’s lack of support for working parents was causing financial hardship and hitting low paid mums and single parents the most. 

“Just like in the first lockdown, mums are shouldering the majority of childcare. Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are despairing. 

“It’s neither possible nor sustainable for them to work as normal while looking after their children and supervising schoolwork,” she said. 

“The UK’s parental leave system is one of the worst in Europe. It’s time for the Government to give all parents the right to work flexibly, plus at least ten days’ paid carers leave each year.”

Victoria Benson, chief executive of Gingerbread, the charity for single-parent families, added the TUC report provided a “stark reminder” of the balancing act working parents faced and said employers should be “obligated” to grant furlough to working single parents so they can home-school and care for their children. 

“For single parents, it’s even more difficult as they are doing it alone – they have been required to be sole earner, teacher, parent and playmate all at the same time,” she said. 

The TUC has called on the Government to introduce ten days’ paid carers leave for all parents, a right to flexible work, and increase in sick pay and for newly self-employed parents to have access to the self-employment income support scheme

This was echoed by Van Zyl: “In the long term, the pandemic has made it painfully obvious that parents need a better safety net when childcare breaks down. 

“This is why we’re calling for the Government to urgently enact a statutory paid parental leave entitlement of at least ten days that can be used in emergencies by all workers, with the right to return to their job.”