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Work-life balance still a struggle for low-income working parents

Many working parents - especially low-income workers - have little control over the way they manage the balance between their jobs and their family lives. This is unlikely to improve, despite government provision to enhance employee's rights with the UK Work and Families Act 2006, which came into force in April 2007.

This is the conclusion of new research from LSE that will be presented today (Wednesday 25 July) at the 2007 Social Policy Association annual conference.

The 12 month study by Hartley Dean, reader in social policy at LSE, was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The report found that while some working parents enjoy the benefits of understanding managers, adequate income and quality childcare, getting such benefits would seem to a matter of luck.

  • Stress and long hours were thought to be unavoidable in some jobs, or else parents believed that income and prospects had to be sacrificed in order to obtain 'family friendly' working conditions.
  • Generally, parents were not aware of their rights at work - to request parental leave or a change of hours, for example. Or else they lacked the confidence to exercise such rights. Standards of management vary enormously both between and within employing organisations and not all managers are understanding towards the needs of working parents.
  • Virtually none of the parents properly understood their entitlements to social security benefits and/or tax credits and some were not claiming everything they were entitled to. Several had had adverse experiences of the new tax credit system - including problems with overpayments - that left them frightened now to claim. They would prefer adequate wages to government top-ups.
  • By and large parents would prefer to care for their own children or to make childcare arrangements with family or friends. There were concerns about the accessibility, affordability and reliability of formal childcare and the fragmented nature of provision made choosing difficult.

Dr Hartley Dean said: "This research aimed to identify what people really understood by and expected from work-life balance. What we were told by the people who took part demonstrated their relative powerlessness in relation to employers, income maintenance systems and childcare providers. Those who were content with their work-life balance appeared to have achieved it by chance, not choice.

'Government and employers need a different way of thinking about work-life balance. Current policies are based on the claim that there is a 'business case' for helping people combine work and family life. But some working parents clearly are not benefiting. And for many lower-skilled workers there isn't necessarily a business case for trying to meet their needs. Work-life balance for all should be seen more as a corporate social responsibility issue, in the same way that, for example, employment for disabled people is now increasingly regarded as a matter of social responsibility. The latest changes in employment law are very welcome, but by themselves will not achieve this.'

Flexibility or Flexploitation? Problems with work-life balance in a low-income neighbourhood will be presented by Hartley Dean on Wednesday 23 July at the Social Policy Association annual conference.




A discussion paper based on the research findings is available at http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cp/CASEpaper114.pdf| 

Additionally, the full End of Award Report (Ref: RES-000-22-1491) is available from the ESRC's web-site

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007/08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk| 

2007 Social Policy Association conference
The SPA annual conference takes New Frontiers? Social Policy in the 21st Century as its key theme and will be held at the University of Birmingham from the 23rd-25th July.

Seven academics from LSE will present papers at this year's Social Policy Association (SPA) annual conference in July. The research examines a range of aspects of social policy: the Equalities Review, work-life balance, escaping the 'social service' mindset, and older workers and what can be learnt from the history of retirement. See
LSE academics to speak at 2007 Social Policy Association conference|

25 July 2007