MPs call for action on women returners
A cross-party group of MPs is calling on the government and employers to do more to help women enter and re-enter the workforce.
Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women and Work (APPG) have released a report entitled Women Returners, which makes a series of recommendations.
The APPG’s inquiry, which was launched by Flick Drummond MP and Jess Phillips MP at the beginning of 2016, has heard from a range of organisations and individuals about the difficulties women experience when returning to work after a break of more than six months. Evidence was received from organisations including The Return Hub, Young Women’s Trust, 5Live, Mumsnet and CIPD.
The report’s main recommendations are:
- Equalise Statutory Maternity Pay and Statutory Shared Parental Leave Pay so that couples are not financially penalised if they choose to take up Shared Parental Leave.
- Government to enable mothers who are self-employed to claim a form of ‘Statutory Maternity Pay’ and re-examine how the self-employed are treated for maternity and paternity related benefits.
- Government to work across all departments, in consultation with disabled user groups, to help women with disabilities secure employment and progress in the workplace.
- Government to consider offering more flexible, targeted support to a smaller number of parents for whom free childcare is most likely to make the biggest difference.
- Every workplace with 250 or more employees should have a carer’s policy detailing organisational support available.
- Employers with 250 or more employees should consider putting in place paid returner programmes or returnships with guaranteed training, advice, and support.
- Government to take further steps to diversify the apprenticeships sector by specifying that a percentage should be part-time or flexible.
- Employers should launch a flexible working kitemark with official accreditation and assessment.
- Schools should ensure that information about self-employment and entrepreneurships are on the curriculum at secondary and sixth form level.
Dominie Moss, founder of The Return Hub and a contributor to the report, explained what a returner programme typically looks like at the “30 or so larger employers” currently running such initiatives.
“It is typically a three to six month paid internship either full time or part time where participants work in a business area relevant to their skills and interest,” she told HR magazine. “The best programmes have a mentoring or buddy system, offer some technical skills re-training and also coaching to help returners regain their professional confidence. There are lots of opportunities for networking and being part of a cohort means there is additional support from their peer group.”
Regarding the report’s first recommendation of equalising statutory maternity and parental leave pay, she said “the government needs to act.”
“The current system is unfair on both mothers and fathers and it seems obvious they should be treated equally,” she continued. “I think it is only a matter of time before employers will have to offer the same maternity and shared parental leave pay to mothers and fathers and the sooner the better.”
Moss added that further steps to diversify apprenticeships should involve employers being able to “use funds from the apprenticeship levy for their returner programmes so that more firms are incentivised to offer them".
Speaking at the report launch, co-chair of the APPG, conservative MP Flick Drummond said: “If we want to be a happier and more successful county, we must appreciate that some people take time out of the workplace for either caring responsibilities or to pursue other interests."
She added: “I would like to see a culture where we recognise that caring responsibilities have a positive impact on our ability to ‘do the job’ and that this is understood and valued by employers across the country."
"There is huge economic 'carrot' for the government to do so – increasing overall maternal employment by up to 5% could generate around £750 million in increased tax revenue and decreased benefit spending for the country," added Moss.