WBG Response to Department for Trade and Industry’s Consultation ‘Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility’
Date Posted: Wednesday 18th May 2005
The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the governments proposals in the DTI’s consultation document “Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility”. Our response considers key elements that impact on gender equality contained in the proposals for changes to maternity leave and the extension of the right to request flexible work for carers and parents of older children and carers. It also considers how the impact of policy in this area should be monitored including some comments on the Regulatory Impact Assessment, highlighting factors that should enable a gender perspective to be better integrated into policy development.
Improving “Choice and Flexibility” for employees with parental and/or caring responsibilities can help equal opportunities in a number of ways:
1. By increasing the involvement of men in caring for children and others needing care, thus producing a less unequal gender division of caring responsibilities.
2. By decreasing the disadvantages people experience in the labour market through fulfilling caring responsibilities. Since there is currently an unequal division of caring responsibilities, measures that decrease consequent labour market disadvantage will help to diminish gender inequalities in employment. These disadvantages currently include widening differences between the hours, pay, employment conditions and pension entitlements of men and women as they get older. They are largely due to employment conditions incompatible with fulfilling caring responsibilities resulting in mothers and carers either leaving employment or becoming trapped in low skilled part-time paid work as a result. This incompatibility may be a continuing one that flexible working could reduce, or it may arise from a specific event requiring adequate leave from employment, for example, the birth of a child.
3. By challenging the picture of women as less reliable employees than men, arising from a belief that caring responsibilities result in women taking more and less predictable time off employment than men.
The proposals in “Work and Families: Choice and Flexibility”, can make a contribution to improving opportunities in all three of these ways. However it is important that they are implemented appropriately, otherwise the effect could to be to reinforce gender inequalities. It is also important that the policies are thoroughly monitored and evaluated from the outset.