Our co-founder and director Nikki Slowey gave evidence to a Scottish Parliamentary inquiry earlier this month on the role flexible working can play in helping tackle child poverty. Here she blogs about her experience and our recommendations to the Scottish Government.
It was a bit nerve-racking giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee about how to address child poverty through improving parental employment. I’d been invited as an expert on flexible working. But as a mother of three myself, and knowing there are children in my community going to bed hungry and parents pushed to the brink because work just isn’t working for them, I really wanted to make my time count.
I ran through some of our latest research showing that while 61% of Scottish workers have flexible working, more than a third (36%) don’t work flexibly. Among workers who don’t work flexibly, a whopping 60% say flexibility would make a difference to their lives.
Our figures show that in general, the more you earn the more likely you are to work flexibly, with workers on the lowest incomes having the least flex. In particular, women earning less than £20,000 are one of the groups with the lowest levels of flex.
This matters because flexible working can support many mothers – and fathers – to get into work, stay in work and progress in work.
Our research shows that without flexible working, more than a quarter (26%) of mothers would have to stop working completely. While nearly one in three (28%) parents would have to pay more for childcare, putting extra pressure on family finances.
Despite the huge demand for flexible working, finding a flexible job remains difficult for many. According to the Timewise Scottish Flexible Jobs Index, only 28% of advertised vacancies offer flexible working, yet our research shows 54% of unemployed women and 34% of unemployed men say they wouldn’t apply for a job if it didn’t mention flexible working.
Of course, child poverty is complex, and flexible working is no single silver bullet. Added to that, the Scottish Government doesn’t have legislative powers over employment law. But I still strongly believe that child poverty can be addressed, in part, through family-friendly and flexible working conditions offered by employers. And by the Scottish Government using its ‘soft’ power to foster and set expectations around ways of working that benefit people, employers and our society at large.
Recommendations for Scottish Government
I gave some practical thoughts, based on our work with employers, about what the Scottish Government might do with its ‘softer’ powers to increase flexible working.
To re-cap, we recommended that Scottish Government carry out the following:
- Spearhead an awareness raising campaign in Scotland to raise awareness of the benefits of flexible working, and help employers get ready to embrace new UK flexible working legislation expected in early 2024, which among other measures gives employees a ‘day one’ right to request flexible working.
- Strengthen the Fair Work First commitment to ‘offer flexible and family friendly working practices for all workers from day one of employment’ making it genuine, and a measurable requirement for procurement and grant giving, potentially through a recognition scheme for employers.
- Lead by example in their working practices, alongside all public bodies, including making flexible working the default way to work, and to design and advertise all jobs as open to flexible working and undertaking employee-led reviews of their practices.
- Creating dialogue with the private sector, in particular SMEs, to find out what help and support they need to help them implement greater flexible and family friendly working, ensuring a focus on non-office jobs.
- Provide specific financial support for employers to help them embed flexible and friendly working, including manager training.
- Continue funding for Flexibility Works to help us raise awareness of the benefits of flexible working, showcase good practice in flexible working, and work to improve flexible working in the least flexible sectors.
- Ensure providers of funded employability programmes are advocating for, and brokering, flexible jobs.
- Continue funding ‘Women Returner’ programmes, which include helping women understand more about the types of flexible working available to them, and how to find and apply for a flexible role.
- Use some of the funding allocated for proposed private and public sector four-day working week pilots to scope and trial other specific forms of flexible working. This should include the creation of flexible opportunities for frontline workers in sectors such as social care.
We look forward to hearing the outcomes and broader recommendations from this inquiry, in due course. In the meantime, we continue to raise awareness of the benefits flexible working for people, for employers and for society. And to give practical help to employers, supporting them introduce greater flexibility in their workplaces.