More than 70% of working mothers who asked to be furloughed for childcare reasons since schools closed this year have been refused, according to new research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The research also found that almost half (48%) of UK women are worried about being treated negatively by their employers because of their childcare responsibilities.
Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, told HR magazine that while the safety of school staff and children must always come first, working parents need more help.
She said: “The government’s lack of support for working parents is causing huge financial hardship and stress – and hitting low-paid mums and single parents hardest.
“Just like in the first lockdown, mums are shouldering the majority of childcare. Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are despairing. It’s neither possible nor sustainable for them to work as normal while looking after their children and supervising schoolwork.”
The TUC’s research also found two in five mothers were unaware the scheme was available to parents affected by school or nursery closures.
O’Grady said temporary furlough would provide working parents with a steady income as well as time for homeschooling.
“Making staff take weeks of unpaid leave isn't the answer,” she 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 10 days’ paid carers leave each year.”
Agata Nowakowska, area vice president at Skillsoft, said the TUC’s research highlights the strain working mothers are under.
She said the strain is one that risks pushing them out of the workforce entirely.
Nowakowska added: “Businesses need to recognise this issue quickly and find ways of offering the support working mothers need. At its core, this means better embedding gender equality initiatives into HR policies and company culture.”
The TUC has called for a temporary legal right to furlough for parents and carers, along with 10 days’ paid carers leave, a right to flexible work, an increase in sick pay and access to the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) for newly self-employed parents.