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Parents of disabled children struggle to stay in work

Parents of disabled children are struggling to hold down jobs because of a lack of suitable and affordable childcare, flexible jobs and appropriate leave

A new report by Working Families analysed feedback from 1,250 parents of disabled children, the majority of whom were mothers.

It found that three-quarters (76%) have turned down a promotion or accepted a demotion to meet their caring responsibilities. Nearly half (45%) are working at a lower skill level than before they had their disabled child.

By comparison, figures for all working parents show just 10% of working mothers and fathers have turned down a promotion.

The report, Off Balance – Parents of disabled children and paid work, shows that despite downshifting parents of disabled children often still struggle to hold down jobs because of a lack of practical support and flexibility.

The report found that 86% of parents with disabled children find it ‘difficult or impossible’ to find suitable – often specialist childcare, while 82% have trouble finding childcare they can afford.

It also showed that while flexible jobs are highly valued they are scarce. Nine in 10 (91%) parents of disabled children say finding a job with the right working pattern is a significant barrier to returning to work. Four in five (81%) say it’s a significant barrier to staying in work.

Finding roles with the right number of hours is another issue, with 82% stating this is a barrier to work, and 77% stating it's a barrier to returning to the workplace.

Parents also said they found it difficult to take time off for their children’s medical or therapy appointments, or when circumstances change. More than one in five (22%) stated having a period of paid ‘adjustment leave’ that applies during periods of diagnosis or changes in circumstances would make one of the biggest differences. (Current leave entitlements, such as emergency leave for dependents and parental leave require notice and/or are unpaid.)

The report also showed that nearly a third (30%) of parents of disabled children are not working, and of those 40% have been out of work for more than five years.

By comparison, 26% of all women and 8% of all men with dependent children- both with and without disabilities- are not working.

Chief executive at Working Families Sarah Jackson said that working parents of disabled children are subject to damaging assumptions.

“It’s still the norm that parents – and very often mothers – are met with an assumption they will give up work simply because they have a disabled child. For decades these parents have found themselves in an all or nothing scenario between working and caring. Being pushed out of work leads to long-term unemployment, child poverty, and lost skills and talent from our economy,” she said.

“We urgently need sufficient and affordable childcare for disabled children underpinned by flexibility as the norm, rather than the exception, in the workplace. And parents of disabled children should be entitled to a period of paid ‘adjustment leave’ so they can put care arrangements in place without losing their job.”

Liz Walker, HR director of Unum UK, which sponsored the report, added that supporting parents creates a more engaged workforce. “Parents of disabled children are still facing significant challenges in finding, retaining and progressing [jobs]," she said.

“It is abundantly clear that keeping parents of disabled children in work is in everyone’s interest – parents, children, employers and the economy. Employers who support their employees in balancing work and caring will have more engaged, productive and loyal employees.”

Among other policy changes, Working Families is calling for the UK government to work with employers to ‘make flexible working a reality for all employees’, and for parents of disabled children to be legally able to request flexible working as a ‘reasonable adjustment’.