Most mothers ‘forced to give up work after second child’


Study suggests low-skilled workers struggle with cost of childcare, as take-up of shared parental leave reaches just 1.5 per cent

Working mothers in low-skilled jobs are being forced to either considerably reduce their hours or give up work altogether after having a second child, according to a wide-ranging study that suggests lack of access to childcare has a profound effect on the labour market.

While having one child has a relatively limited effect on workforce participation, women in low-skilled jobs reduced the amount they worked each week by an average of 18 hours after the arrival of their second child, according to the study from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Those in skilled roles worked an average of five hours less per week. The study, which examined 3,000 UK women who had their first child between 2000 and 2001, also found that the proportion of women in unskilled jobs working more than 20 hours a week dropped by more than half (50 per cent) after they had their second child.

In total, 60 per cent of women with one child aged under four were working to some extent, but the figures dipped dramatically when a second child arrived.

Researchers concluded that women in lower-skilled jobs were severely affected by the cost of childcare: the latest figures from the Family and Childcare Trust put the cost of a nursery place at £212 per week outside London and £284 in the capital.

Claudia Hupkau, one of the LSE economists who worked on the research, said many working women simply do not have the option to choose between working and taking care of their children. “It is often thought that women stay at home because they want to, but the reality seems to be that they often do not have a choice, or indeed that going back would make them financially worse off,” she said.

The figures coincide with the announcement of the first quantifiable data about take-up of shared parental leave, which was introduced in April 2015. According to HMRC figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, just 3,000 families took advantage of the benefit in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to around 1.5 per cent of the 207,000 parents on standard maternity or paternity leave in this period.

The figures are broadly consistent with an estimate from the TUC, which in 2015 said it believed take-up was running at less than 1 per cent. Sarah Jackson, CEO of work-life balance charity Working Families, said organisations could be doing more to help support shared parental leave: “Employers have a really important role to play to improve understanding of what shared parental leave is.”

Bertille Calinaud, senior inclusion and diversity consultant at Inclusive Employers, said employers needed to encourage working parents to see the advantages of continuing to work after having children, as well as promoting shared parental leave. “Employers could use other employees who balance work and family life as examples, and ask them to share their positive experiences. This is a great opportunity to shift workplace cultures to create inclusive and agile companies,” she said. “Employers also need to ensure they support new parents, and ensure all their staff can work flexibly by focusing on the outcomes of their work instead of where and when they work.”

The government said it had created more than 900,000 childcare places since 1998 and was offering 30 hours of free childcare to all three and four-year-olds from next year. But critics have expressed concern that this scheme may prove unworkable in practice because of a lack of childcare places.

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