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Lack of flexibility in low paid-work means people are having to go part-time, study finds

Working parents and people with caring responsibilities are increasingly looking to part-time work that gives them greater flexibility

Four in 10 working mothers of children under five are considering leaving their job as a direct result of childcare costs, says Pregnant Then Screwed. Image: Vitolda Klein / Unsplash

People on the lowest incomes are increasingly being driven to work part-time to cope with the rising cost of childcare and caring responsibilities, a new study has found.

Low-paid men, including those earning minimum wage, work on average five hours a week fewer than men in the highest income category, new analysis the Resolution Foundation has found. This jumps to a 10-hour difference in the gap between the lowest and highest paid women.

Britain is seeing a “‘part-time work divide’, where low-paid workers work fewer hours than high earners”, said Louise Murphy, economist at the think tank.

“This reduces individuals’ living standards and raises Britain’s inequality,” she added.

“Of course, for many lower earners, part-time work is a positive choice, reflecting their wider life priorities. For others, however, the decision to work part-time is driven by a lack of flexibility and opportunity, with real implications for their wages today and progression tomorrow.

“Policy makers should therefore recognise these nuanced drivers of part-time work, and focus on improving the quality of people’s work. Part-time work should not be the only route for low earners to enjoy the flexibility that higher-paid workers take for granted, such as being able to do the school run or keep weekends free.”

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Campaigners are calling for policy-makers to focus on improving the quality of low-paid work, which is less likely to allow flexible working hours or remote working, than higher paid jobs. 

Pregnant Then Screwed has warned that rising childcare costs are making it increasingly unfeasible for parents on low incomes to afford nursery or childminder fees. Parents are, on average, spending more on childcare costs than they are on housing, research from the campaigning group has found.

Parents on the lowest incomes are having to spend three times as much on childcare as the richest, according to recent research from the Social Market Foundation.

Carers, too, are having to reduce their hours or quit their jobs altogether, so they can continue to look after a loved one, said the Carers Trust. New research has found almost a quarter of carers have had to reduce the number of hours they work to care for a sick or disabled loved one, pushing carers many into “unprecedented financial hardship”. 

“With little ability to work, unpaid carers simply cannot boost their earnings to meet the cost of living crisis,” said Carers Trust’s chief executive, Kirsty McHugh.

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However, researchers also found many lower-earners also see working part-time as a positive decision, as people place greater emphasis on personal wellbeing and spending time with their families. 

Murphy noted that working fewer hours is generally seen as an integral part of economic progress as countries become richer.

The ‘anti-work’ movement rose in popularity after the pandemic, as people emerged from the multiple lockdowns having reimagined how they wanted to spend their time, and their ideas of work-life balance.  

Wellbeing has risen up the agenda of many Brits, with campaigns for a four day week (with no cut to pay) having seen a boom in popularity in the last year. 

The Big issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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