Working Mothers Are In ‘Absolute Despair’ – Why Are We Having To Choose Between Financial Security And Our Children’s Wellbeing?

Shocking new stats reveal that 71% of working mothers have had their request for flexible furlough rejected. Boris Johnson: Give desperate parents the right to furlough or we’ll wake up in 1951, writes Anna Whitehouse

Furlough flexible working

by Anna Whitehouse |

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I’m sat in our bedroom desperately trying to write this in the 30 minutes that my daughter is on Google Classroom. My husband is on a big deadline and he’s taking the afternoon Phonics shift. But until then I’m trying to earn money while educating my child like many other parents right now in the face of school doors part-shutting. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

It isn’t working. I did the maths and we’re expected to do an average eight-hour day, six hours of homeschooling and 12 hours of parenting. That’s 26 hours in a 24-hour day. The mental health pandemic is where my exhausted mind is settling right now. Today’s TUC survey (that saw an unprecedented 55,318 responses) found 90% of mothers have found their stress and anxiety levels sky rocketing compared to the first lockdown. And it's not surprising, when the study also revealed that 71% of working mothers have had their requests for flexible furlough refused.

We’re logging onto work and Zooming into Google Classroom but we’re burning out in the process. I’ve pinballed between manic optimism for the kids and crushing pessimism behind-the-scenes. I don’t know a parent right now whose mind isn’t whirring with passwords, emails, compound pronouns and questions – relentless questions that you don’t have the answers for.

'I Think About Taking Flexible Furlough A Lot': How Parents Can Ask For Furlough For Childcare

And yes, there are companies that get it, including Zurich Insurance that has led the charge on dependant’s care. It’s offering parents or carers ten days paid leave to, well, care because it recognises that teaching and working are two separate roles.

But this is a rare example of compassion right now and the majority are expecting parents – predominantly mothers – to pick up all the pieces of an impossible jigsaw. Even harder is that seven in 10 working mums have had requests for flexible furlough refused, leaving us in the heartbreaking position of choosing between financial security and child wellbeing. Many single parents and low-income families don’t even have the luxury of that choice.

“Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are in absolute despair,” TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said. “Bosses must do the right thing and offer maximum flexibility to mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare. And as a last resort, parents must have a temporary right to be furloughed where their boss will not agree. 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.”

It’s a nightmarish time right now, more so for those on the front line. Everyone has to do their bit but there’s no denying women are logging off, stepping down and burning out in the dual roles they’ve been tasked with. And we know from SARS and Ebola gender inequalities widened, so we need government support right now to not wake up in 1951.

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