Home front final results

Key findings and recommendations

This report is based on the findings of a survey of 3,549 mothers and fathers who completed an online survey on Mumsnet and of online discussions on Mumsnet involving mothers and fathers.

  • Most parents (83% of dads and 86% of mums) would like some sort of flexible working.
  • 71% of dads and 68% of mums say the family doesn’t have the working arrangement they would prefer.
  • 39% of mums and 40% of dads say the family couldn’t afford the arrangement they would prefer.
  • 32% of mums and 20% of dads said their employer wouldn’t allow them to work flexibly.
  • 11% of mums and 22% of dads were worried about the long term impact flexible working would have on their career.
  • Participants in the Home Front discussions who had negotiated flexible working often felt their career had suffered as a result.
  • Many mothers reported discrimination at work when they told their employer they were pregnant or after returning from maternity leave.
  • Several people posting in the Home Front discussions complained about the lack of choice about who took leave after a baby was born. For some it would have been better for their family for the father to take leave.
  • There was still a lack of affordable good quality childcare, particularly for school age children and for disabled children.
  • Despite greater expectation of equality among couples before having children, women were still doing most of the domestic work:
    • 75% of mums did most of the cooking for their children (9% of dads)
    • 69% of mums did most of the homework supervision (11% of dads)
    • 90% of mums did most of the organising of play-dates  (3% of dads)
    • 56% of mums always or usually took time off work to look after a sick child (8% of dads)
  • For most couples in the survey the father was the main earner – working longer hours (86% in full-time work compared to 27% of mothers in full-time work) and earning on average twice as much as the mothers in the survey
  • Women were losing out in terms of pay and promotion while men’s long working hours left them with little time with their children. While a significant minority of respondents were happy with this situation many others felt frustration and resentment.


Recommendations from mums and dads

The following recommendations were made by parents taking part in the Home Front discussions:

  • Longer and better paid leave for fathers including self-employed fathers
  • Paid leave for either parent after the birth of a child, replacing extended maternity leave with a form of paid parental leave that either parent could take.
  • Flexible working for all - this would include the right to request flexible working when starting a new job as well as after 26 weeks and should be extended to all employees not just parents to remove the stigma.
  • High-quality affordable childcare, in particular after-school and holiday care for school-age children; childcare for parents working non-traditional hours; childcare for children with special needs; improve the working of the childcare voucher scheme; greater flexibility about who could be paid with childcare tax credit
  • Create a culture of shared care where both parents are seen as responsible for their children, not just mothers
  • Greater support for parents of disabled children from social, education and health services
  • Schools and other services to recognise the needs of working parents rather than assuming one parent was at home all day.

Background to the project

Patterns of paid work and caring among men and women are changing – and so are social attitudes. The traditional model of men as sole breadwinners while women stayed at home full time to care for children is declining; in 2000, 49% of mothers of children under one year had returned to work. Fathers' care of infants and young children has increased from 15 minutes per day on average in 1975 to two hours in 1997. Family structures are also changing with more children being brought up by separated parents or in step families.


Pressures on mothers and fathers in the early years of a child's life are intense. Despite changes in patterns of work and caring many parents find there is a gap between their expectations of greater equality and the reality after a child is born. The growing aspirations of many mothers to maintain a viable working role and of many fathers to be actively involved in caring for their children are often frustrated.

The dual pressures of earning and caring combined with the practical, economic and cultural barriers to mothers' and fathers' aspirations can cause extreme personal stress and strain on relationships. This can undermine cooperative parenting and have a negative impact on children and wider society.

Public policy in this area has changed a great deal over the past ten years with extended maternity leave, the introduction of paternity and parental leave, the right to request flexible hours and the national childcare strategy. However many parents still feel pressured and frustrated.

As leading organisations working with mothers and fathers, Mumsnet.com and Dad Info are aware of the pressures felt by parents in trying to share earning and caring responsibilities.

The Home Front project was developed in response to the pressures articulated by users of Mumsnet.com and Dad Info. We wanted to find out more about the problems mothers and fathers faced and what they thought would make their lives easier. Through online opinion polling and discussion we've tried to gather as much information as possible about how modern parents make life work, and what would help them. This is the report of the project.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is supporting the Home Front debate as part of its wider initiative, Working Better, which aims to identify and promote innovative new ways of working which help meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Methodology


Home Front launched in July 2008 with an online survey. A total of 3,549 mums and dads completed an online survey hosted on Mumsnet. All respondents lived in the UK, were parents and had a partner (opposite sex or same sex) living in the same house who shared responsibility for the children. Respondents were invited to complete the survey via national press requests, Mumsnet.com, Dad Info and from The Equality and Human Rights Commissions (EHRC) site.

Both the survey and online discussions (see below) were also promoted by a wide range of voluntary organisations, businesses and trade unions through their websites and e-newsletters.

Respondents were spread over the whole of the UK and the data has not been weighted. The base for all charts, unless stated, is all respondents.
(NB: Where this report refers to 'mums' or 'dads' this is where the respondent was a mum or a dad.)

The Home Front questions.

As well as the survey, parents were invited to take part in online discussions where they could share their experiences of balancing work and family life. These discussions were hosted on the Mumsnet Talk boards under a specific Home Front section. Some were initiated by Mumsnet but most were started by users of the talk boards themselves. The discussions were promoted on Mumsnet, Dad Info and the EHRC websites as well as through the websites and e-newsletters of supportive organisations and businesses.

This report brings together the results of the survey with the key themes coming out of the Home Front discussions. It also draws on other relevant discussion threads on Mumsnet started under other headings (for example Relationships, Employment Issues, Lone Parents).

Common acronyms used on Mumsnet and found in quotes from respondents:

DH – dear/darling husband
DP – dear/darling partner
DW – dear/darling wife
OH  - other half
DD – dear/darling daughter
DS – dear/darling son
DCs – dear/darling children
DSD – dear/darling step daughter
DSS – dear/darling step son
SAHM/P – stay at home mother/parent
WOHM/P – work outside the home mother/parent
WFTC – working family tax credit
CTC – child tax credit
CA – carer’s allowance
HV- health visitor
iyswim – if you see what I mean

Other commonly used acronyms on Mumsnet.

What do mums and dads want?

The Home Front survey asked parents what their ideal working-childcare arrangement was for themselves and their partners. As the results show, parents varied in their preferred pattern of paid work and caring. However, there was an overwhelming demand from both mothers and fathers for some form of flexible working, for both themselves and their partners.

Chart 1: Mums' and dads' ideal working arrangements and what they think their partner's ideal arrangement would be (%)

 

Mums   Dads  
  For themselves Partner's choice For themselves Partner's choice
Full-time employment
regular hours
2 29 16 5
Part-time employment
regular hours
8 4 4 6
Full-time employment –
flexible working arrangement
ie start/finish early
13 51 59 18
Part-time employment -
flexible working arrangement
ie start/finish early
35 11 14 31
Part-time paid flexible working
ie when child/ren at school, nursery, asleep, weekends
30 4 6 26
Not in paid employment 12 2 1 15

Q10. Thinking about different working and childcare arrangements, which of the following would you choose in an ideal world? Q10. Thinking about different working and childcare arrangements, which of the following would your partner choose in an ideal world? %

Two-thirds of mums would ideally like to work but in a part-time and flexible arrangement. Over one in ten (12%) would ideally not want paid employment. A tiny minority would ideally (2%) want full-time paid employment with regular hours, though there is demand among more than one in ten (13%) for full-time employment with flexible hours. Regarding their partners, half (51%) thought their partners would ideally want full-time employment, but with flexible arrangements. Less than a third thought their partner would want to work in a full-time role with regular hours and one in six (15%) thought their partner would like to work part time with flexible arrangement.

Three-fifths of Dads (59%) would like full-time employment but with a flexible arrangement, as opposed to 16% who would prefer a full-time role with regular hours. A small minority would like part-time roles, but of those who do the demand is strong for flexible arrangements. Over half the Dads (57%) surveyed thought their partners would like to be working part time in a flexible role. One in five (18%) thought their partners would like to be working full time, but with flexible arrangements.

Both the survey and discussion threads clearly demonstrated that there is no one answer to the question 'what do parents want?', when it comes to who does what at home and at work. As with most parenting boards, a common discussion theme on Mumsnet is the advantages and disadvantages of paid work outside the home versus unpaid work at home looking after the family. These discussions involve parents (mainly mothers, but some fathers) with a wide range of experiences including some who are happy at work, some who would rather be at home, some who are happy at home and some who would rather be at work.

The survey offers a snapshot of what parents want at a particular point in time. The online discussions show that not only do different parents want different things, but that the same person may want different things at different points in their life.

"I've been a SAHM, worked part time, worked full time, gone self employed part-time (in theory!). DP has been full time and is now part time (four days). One thing I've realised is there is no 'perfect balance', the balance changes as your family changes."

Sometimes parents find that their assumptions about who would do what are completely overturned when a child is born.

"Before DH and I had children, we assumed that once little feet came along I would stay at home, cook, clean etc and DH would work full time and put up shelves at the weekend. When we had children, we discovered, after several months of neither of us being very happy, that actually our strengths were reversed. I now work full time and DH is at home. He does the school run, cooking, nappy changing during the day and we are both so much happier. Cultural expectations can be very difficult to live up to sometimes!"

Both mothers and fathers are more likely to be happy with their particular balance of work and caring when they feel that they have real choice about their situation. The high demand for flexible working in the survey and discussions shows how crucial flexibility is to that choice.

Flexible working can make the difference between returning to work after having a child or deciding to stay at home.

"Flexible working is the only reason I am back at work – I can fit work around my family and still give both my all."

Flexible working was seen as important for fathers as well as mothers. One father explained how his flexible working helped his partner in her job

"The fact that I leave early twice a week means that she can work late... and I can do the same on 'her' nights if I want to... At the cost of two hours work on my side both of our lives have got so much easier. Until then I was rushing like a maniac to try to get back a couple of times a week just to see DS (son) for 10 minutes before bedtime and she was having to leave meetings early every day to pick him up."

Flexible working was particularly important for lone and separated parents.

"I have a very good, flexible employer who values work/life balance." (When asked what helps as a lone parent)

"I do what I can for them (working at home etc) and they in turn help me out when I need time off."

Flexibility was also vital for parents of disabled children:

"In some ways I am lucky - I have professional qualifications (and need to do many hours continuing education a year to keep them) - but after many years of caring for my lovely son I may lose them. I do manage to work a little but it is a constant struggle to organise childcare, get to work on time (school transport pickup times are very variable) get home before my son and keep my skills up to date, and keep my head above water financially!
So what has made it possible to work at all? Well an understanding boss helps (both my present and previous superiors had firsthand experience of additional needs) with reciprocal flexibility when it is possible i.e. covering extra days when I can - or doing what ever is needed when I am there). Partner (or other family sharing care) with flexible working or understanding boss is essential!"

Parents' desire for flexible working was so strong that a quarter (25%) said that they would be prepared to take a pay cut in exchange for greater flexibility.

Parents' desire for flexibility goes beyond flexible working. Both mothers and fathers in the Home Front discussions frequently said they wanted flexibility when discussing a range of issues. These included childcare (where flexibility might be needed to meet the needs of parents with non-standard working hours or children with special needs), leave entitlements (to allow flexibility about which parent took leave after a child was born), services for parents (to take account of the needs of working parents) and benefits/tax credits (to allow for the changes in circumstances that are part of family life).

Without flexibility in this wider sense parents felt they were unable to exercise the choices they would like to make about how their family combined earning and caring.

What is happening at the moment?


Unfortunately, the experience of most parents in the Home Front survey was that the flexibility they needed to have real choice was very difficult to achieve.

Flexible working

86% of mums and 83% of dads questioned in the Home Front survey said they would like some form of flexible working, but the majority of parents did not have the working arrangement they would prefer: only 31% of Mums and 27% of Dads said their family had their ideal working arrangement.

Chart 2. Do parents have the working arrangement they would prefer? (%)

  Mums Dads
Yes 31 27
No 68 71

Q11a. Does your family currently have this arrangement? %


Two-fifths (39% of mums and 40% of dads) say money is the main barrier to their preferred arrangement: 32% of mums and 20% of dads said that their not allow the flexibility desired. Some are concerned about the potential impact on their career (particularly dads) and a number mentioned it was hard to find a job which offers flexibility – for example, around school holidays.

Chart 3. Reasons why family does not have preferred working arrangement (%)

  Mums Dads
Money – we couldn't afford it 39 40
My employer wouldn't allow flexibility 32 20
My partner's employer wouldn't allow flexibility 24 32
Anxiety about impact on long-term career for my partner 8 9
Anxiety about impact on long-term career for me 11 22
I wouldn't want to change my role at work/home 7 3
My partner wouldn't want to change role at work/home 5 9
Can't find flexible employment/good enough flexible job 5 5

Q11b. Which of the following reasons prevents you from having this arrangement? Please choose the two main reasons. Base: all who do not have ideal working and childcare arrangements (2,408) %

Money

Not being able to afford flexible working was the single biggest reason given by both mothers (39%) and fathers (40%) when asked why they did not have the working patterns they would prefer.

"My husband started a new job in February and works very long hours, barely seeing the baby during the week. We feel we have slipped into clichéd gender roles without either of us wanting them. My husband would prefer to work fewer hours but doesn't have the freedom and we're reliant on his current wage to pay the mortgage."

Some said that they would like to work part-time or reduced hours, but found that this would involve a more then pro-rata pay cut.

"We 'need' my salary (in the sense of DH's covering fixed outgoings, mine paying to feed and clothe us - as well as the nursery fees, of course). (I) work at too senior a level to easily find a part-time job at a similar level. Working part time would be likely to mean a massive drop in salary rather than just one proportional to the cut in hours, as I'd almost certainly have to take a more junior post."

For others, part-time working was only an option for one partner, while the other had to work full time.

"Both partners working part-time would be my ideal, but in practice part time work is often insecure and badly paid - two part time salaries rarely add up to one full time salary."

Because men are usually the higher earners in couples many families found it was particularly difficult for men to take leave or work reduced hours.

"Unpaid parental leave, or paternity leave at just over £100 a week like we have at the moment is impossible for (men in) many families to afford to take."

Some parents said they would prefer to take a career break when their children were small but could not afford it.

"It's catch 22. I can work full time to keep the roof over our head that we would frankly struggle to keep if I didn't, and DD suffers, or I could stay at home, potentially lose my home, and see how DD suffers then."

"I don't think both parents working full-time long hours is great for family life, but neither is poverty."

Other parents wanted to return to work but found the cost of childcare and/or the loss of other benefits made this difficult.

"It makes me mad when people assume that as a SAHM we must be well off. Well, we're not! It's too expensive to go to work. As someone with NO relatives in this country, and a DH who commutes a long way to work, there is simply no chance of my working unless I could earn enough straight off to pay for a nanny [snort emoticon]. How I envy those with handy grandparents. When you even have to take the dcs to your smear tests, root canal appointments and just about everything else, you know that a job, let alone a career, is just a distant memory."

This was a particular problem for parents of disabled children and lone parents.

Parents of disabled children face particular problems dealing with a benefits system that was very inflexible about combining caring with work or study.

"If you return to full-time study you lose your carer's allowance. This is not fair. I study full time - I do it around my caring responsibilities (so I leave Uni early to meet my son's bus, then work later at night). The government shouldn't need to be told about the association between poverty and having a disabled child."

"My last course was 12 hours a week in Uni, the rest I did at night- if I worked those hours I'd have qualified but because it was labelled full time I didn't get CA. makes zero sense. It's not as if the Uni were sending someone in to care for them- I still did it all."

"I think it's dismal that CA is taken away if you earn over (£95) a week - you still have to care for your child even if you're at work 2 days a week, for goodness sake, plus you have the additional burden of paying for childcare. Bearing in mind that a lot of the children whose parents receive CA will be very poor sleepers (you can only get higher rate DLA if your child is frequently up at night) I think it's outrageous that a bit of work or studying outside the home means that you're basically considered to not be a carer anymore."

Many lone parents complained that a lack of flexibility with the tax credit and benefit system made it very hard to work in a way that fitted around their family's needs. In particular, lone parents who wanted to work less than 16 hours a week did not qualify for Working Family Tax Credit, but still lost Income Support.

"If you try to work under 16 hours you face a double penalty - they take your wage off your income support, pound for pound, and SIMULTANEOUSLY refuse to help you pay for childcare. You end up much worse off. It's not worth it. It's 16 hours or just don't bother."

"I work 4 hrs a week for my £20 which is no problem. Now have another job lined up for 9 hrs a week. DWP have almost told me not to bother cos it's only 13 hrs a week. Too much for IS and too little for WTC. Being penalised for even wanting to work is disgusting IMVHO. Would easily fit around my DD's (13 and 10) but no help whatsoever. Lose my IS, lose my full HB, start paying council tax, lost my uniform grant anyways...yet my lone parents advisor told me not to bother as less than 16 hrs a week."

Even where lone parents had calculated that they would be better off taking a particular job there were concerns that a mistake in Working Family Tax Credit or a delay in payment coming through could tip a family into debt.

"I am just a bit concerned they'll say yes I’m better off etc but when it comes down to it I'm actually not iycwim. Also a bit worried how long it will take to sort the paper work etc out and if they'll stop payments - I can't be without my rent money at least for any length of time, as it is I already owe my parents about £150 as they've been topping up the rent and paid the first months for me, so I can't ask them for another months on top of everything else."

There was often frustration among respondents who felt that 'choices' about paid work and family were not real choices at all.

"If we want 'luxuries' like food, electricity, gas and water I have to work. End of story. We can't downsize because smaller houses are still selling for the same sort of money as ours (which isn't flash by any means) and there are already six of us here."

"Remove the bollocks that parents have choice .. oh no they don't .. and to say we do is patronising."

Issues with employers


Participants in the Home Front discussions shared their frustrations about the difficulties of agreeing flexible working with their employer.

"I asked for it after one year maternity leave. I thought it would be OK as what I was doing runs 24/7 and I had to work some weekends anyway, but they made my life very difficult. I went back without an agreement and worked quite hard for four months but no flexibility was forthcoming so I left."

"I requested flexible working and then condensed hours but was turned down for both."

"I was supposed to do three days a week. I ended up doing over four during the year. I was continually blamed, picked on and sidelined."

"I had previously negotiated part-time work on the same level as I was on full time. Now there has been a change at the top and the new boss doesn't believe in part-time managers. Full stop. No attempt to try it or offer job share or anything. If I want to stay part time when I go back then I have to lose all management responsibilities. Oh and he's issued a moratorium on new applications for people to go part time as he thinks there are too many part-timers already. And this was mailed out to everyone on maternity leave. Nice."

"If I was to ask for a part-time position where I work I would seriously be shunned."

Some participants believed that employers were more open to requests for flexible working from women than from men.

"DH's company have turned down requests from him where they have accepted similar requests from female employees. It is made very clear that it is my employer that should bear the brunt of any care needs that (our son) might have (sickness etc)."

"DH has requested flexible working three times now, all in the public sector… although he has had his requests granted he does feel guilty about it. It is more socially acceptable for women than men to put their children before their career and the men who do it can feel more sidelined."

"DH is quite senior at local hospital - and left a meeting last week at 7pm - after he'd finished his stuff - apologising but saying he wanted to put the children to bed. Next day he was called into CE's office and given a dressing down, told they were disappointed in him and he must never leave work for 'family reasons' again. They told him just to lie and say his wife was ill or something. He was really hoping to start working less hours next year so he can do some of the childcare, but there is such a macho men-don't-take-time-off-for-family culture, especially at a senior level. He will ask but thinks that he will be a marked man and seen as not committed enough. It makes me fume that 'senior' people are supposed to be 'above' family commitments."

Some respondents described a stigma against men who did work flexibly.

"DH has reduced his hours but I think there is always feeling in the background that he is not 'man enough' for a proper job, and should put in more hours for a proper salary etc..."

Many of the parents who were working flexibly had been forced to take a cut in pay or responsibility in order to get the flexibility they wanted.

"Many of my mum mates and I are looking to go back to work because we need the money, but most haven't been able to get jobs at the same level/pay scale. Personally I have taken a 40% pro rata pay drop and had to ditch my career in order to be able to work part time. Is this a waste of nine years of my working life and a waste for the job market too?"

"Can't function as an employee and a mother in the industry I was in. Had to get a couple of very undemanding low paid jobs at a much lower level so I could work PT."

"Reasonably highly paid career job did not accept my flexible working request after maternity leave. I knew they would say no because although they are a large company they are also male dominated and only interested in people who can work full time with no distractions. Now I am looking for part-time work locally and it is classic minimum wage type stuff that is available."

"I am contracted to work four days a week but in reality I work full time hours over four days for part time pay...I am about to hit a crossroads where I think I am going to have to choose between working part time and progressing my career."

Some participants had positive experiences of requesting flexible working, which often enabled them to return to work when they might otherwise have left.

"Flexible working is the only reason I am back at work. I can fit work around my family and still give both my all."

"Both mine and DH's companies have been fab, which is why we still work for them. Everything I've asked for re flexible working I have got no problem. And we are a small IT company with only 18 employees."

"My partner was offered it, he now works from home and can take time to take dd to school, pick her up, go to assemblies etc. and make up the hours elsewhere. It has helped transform our family from a very stressed divided one into one that is blissfully happy and stress free."

Family-unfriendly workplace cultures

Many parents in the Home Front discussions complained that whatever the stated policy of their employer on flexible working, the actual workplace culture was very different. In particular, several raised the problems faced by them or their partners in workplaces that expected long working hours and a high level of after work socialising.

"They give an atmosphere of 'flexibility' about such things but that's against a background of actual activities such as sarcastic comments if you work from home...being called a part timer if you leave at 18.30, emails from the boss at 11pm asking for things the next day, over the weekend, during vacations etc all gets put under the banner of 'we’re so committed to the company, rah rah, aren’t we great', but actually, no you are running a sweatshop and there are likely to be a lot of unhappy families in the background because this environment is not only tolerated but encouraged."

"A few weeks ago the senior group were told that the 'lash club' (yes, they have a budget and an actual club dedicated to the art of getting pissed) had complained to HR that senior people weren't going to the lashy events...and the boss agreed that they should attend more. And yet they are in the Sunday Times top ten list as being a great company to work for and were recently on TV as having great benefits and a good employee atmosphere."

"The reason I left my old company too: 'oh, off early again?' at 7.30 pm, 'no point even inviting you to the quiz night is there'. Well, no, because it's Wednesday and I pick up my son from nursery on Wednesdays, which clearly makes me Not A Team Player. Pah, glad to be self-employed."

"I was repeatedly told (including by the MD) that because I don't drink I was never going to get any business for the agency - 'you have to go and get pissed with people, that's the job'. At the end of the year I'd brought in more business than all the other new business directors combined. Funny how a carefully thought out presentation can turn out to be more effective than drinking ten pints at Spearmint Rhino, isn’t it?? It is definitely not a family-friendly culture."

Maternity/paternity/parental leave

For many parents, the first clue that they will have problems achieving their preferred balance of work and caring starts during pregnancy and immediately after birth. When a child is born mothers are entitled to a year's maternity leave (nine months paid, three unpaid), while men are entitled to two weeks paid paternity leave. Both parents are entitled to unpaid parental leave.

Although mothers have legal protection against discrimination during pregnancy and maternity leave many women taking part in the Home Front discussions reported problems at work either when they were pregnant or after they returned from maternity leave.

"I thought mine did damage to my status within the organisation. A good part of my pre-maternity role was redistributed and I didn't get it back."

"My (ex) company refused to interview me for different jobs after my first baby and made me redundant when I was on maternity leave with my second."

"(My employer) tried to sack me when I got pg. At the time my partner was in touch with some of the countries best employment lawyers so I had a phone call with a lovely woman and she helped me work out what I wanted to say. By the time I was finished they were absolutely bending over backwards to keep me sweet. I guess they hadn’t reckoned on a lowly receptionist having a brain or the balls to fight them."

"I have just been demoted by my employer while on maternity leave with my second child."

Some respondents said that for their family it would have been best if the mother could have returned to work while the father took leave.

"I earn 4x what he does so he has gone part time to look after her. If I could have transferred my maternity to be paternity pay he could have had nine months off with our daughter. Purely because the 'wrong' parent is the breadwinner we could not do this."
 
"My partner was depressed and wanted to go back to work but wasn't ready to leave our child with a stranger. I would have liked the opportunity to take over for the last three months of her maternity leave. My masculinity could have withstood that for the good of my family!"

"The current arrangements place way too much emphasis on the mother being the sole caregiver. Breastfeeding means I will have to stay at home for six months when I give birth early next year, and more importantly I want to spend that time getting to know my baby and caring for him or her. But my partner also wants that experience (not the breastfeeding, the caring!) and financially and professionally I can't take more than six months off. But he'll only get two weeks off after the birth and our baby will need some form of daily childcare once I go back to work because I can't transfer the remaining six months to him."

Many respondents believed the gap between leave entitlements for mothers and fathers not only prevented fathers taking on the main caring role but was behind the discrimination women faced during pregnancy and after maternity leave:

"My husband works for a large law firm. I know for a fact they're careful how many women of 'child-bearing' age they take on. If they thought a 30yr old man was just as likely to take 6mths off as his female co-worker this would help reduce discrimination in the work place. I think this is very relevant to family work/life balance. Often families could live on one wage if it was Mum's, allowing Dad to SAH. Currently that choice is not open to them."

"I personally think that maternity leave of a year shouldn't be maternity leave but parental leave – available to be taken by either parent. That way employers can’' discriminate against women as they can't be sure that a man might be the one asking for time off."

"I genuinely think that if employers expected fathers to take an equal share of parental leave...then it would benefit working mothers by levelling the playing field."

"The current arrangements perpetuate unacceptable discrimination against women by allowing employers to (illegally I know but it's hard to counter something that is never openly said) discriminate against women of child-bearing age while denying fathers the opportunity to take a substantive caring role in their child’s earliest months. It's archaic and it really needs to end."

Childcare

Problems finding good quality affordable childcare prevent many parents achieving their preferred balance of work and caring. There were particular problems for:

Parents of school-age children

Several parents commented that they thought life would become easier once their children started school but had found that finding childcare for school-age children (before and after school hours and in school holidays) harder than finding childcare for younger children.

"Nightmare. Only a couple of childminders collected from my dc's primary and they were fully booked. No after-school club. Zilch."

"And the after-school club won't take reception or nursery kids anyway, so should you have one of those in tandem with an older child, the wheels will come off the whole arrangement very rapidly."

"Currently the after-school clubs are very ad hoc, can be cancelled at a moments notice, and I even run one of them myself! I was once called at 3.30pm to be told the club had been cancelled that week and could I come and pick up my son. Well, no, because I am an hour's drive away at work and only just leaving as I thought I had an extra hour I could spend at work today..."

"I found childcare much much easier pre school. Nursery they went too was flexible. Open from 8am-6pm and if I got stuck in traffic always someone available to stay on (even though extra charge). I was quite smug about how well everything was working.
Completely changed with school even though does have after-school club:
1/ boys hate after-school club - think it' boring and don't want to be there.
2/ they are desperate to have friends back for tea after school
3/ really want me to be in class to help out like other mums
4/ After-school club finishes at 5.30 on the dot. No flexibility at all. Very stressful if probs with traffic.
5/ Homework becomes a real problem. Boys too tired to do it by the time we get in and had something to eat. Everything seems like a massive rush.
I still do it though so can't be that bad - not that I've got any choice. There is a significant number of mums at the school who worked pre school but who are now SAHMs. This is the opposite to what I originally expected."

"YES AND YES AND WHAT ON EARTH DO YOU DO WITH THEM WHEN THEY'RE 11+, ?? Too young to be left, but too old for any out of school clubs [even the out of school clubs they loathed anyway]. Please tell me I genuinely have no idea what we'll do. We struggled through up to now (year 6) with leave/flexitime/holiday clubs but I now realise those were the EASY years!!"

Parents of disabled children

Many parents of disabled children found it impossible to find suitable childcare for their children.

"There's no out-of-school clubs in my city that are suitable for ds1. During holidays there are six places (by which I mean individual children) per day in the entire city that are suitable for children like him. Six. There are over 100 kids in his special school - what use is it providing a holiday club for six of them? The holiday club is great, but there needs to be much greater provision (we were awarded one day a week for five weeks of the six-week holiday)."

"I do work but it's a crap job and I do it because its the ONLY thing that fits in with my homelife We can't find any childcare that costs less than £10 an hour (that's if you can find someone suitable). So that's £10 I will have to earn before I even step out the door, oh and then I have to pay or childcare for two NT children on top. That's a fairly huge chunk of money to be paid towards childcare."

"Before the age of five you have no statutory right to appropriate care/education. If your child needs 1:1 you have no right to get that funded at nursery - it's at the whim of LEA. So effectively you lose the right to return to work after mat leave. That means you're out of the job market for five years. Then you can't get 1:1 after-school childcare so need a part-time job. How the FECK are you going to get a part time job after a break of that long? Other than stacking shelves in Tescos? Even that they like you to work weekends which you can't do because - oh surprise - you can't get childcare. Remember that you often the child is too difficult/medical/whatever for grandparents or neighbours or whatever. to step in. It's just you."

Lone parents

Problems finding suitable childcare were a particular issue for lone parents who couldn't rely on a partner to look after their children when they were working or in an emergency.

"I also am starting to feel that I can't really do the job I do at the level I'm doing it i.e. it's pretty much impossible to do a middle management job without a back up team. I'm caught in a Catch 22 - I don't earn enough to be able to afford a nanny but my job expects me to occasionally be able to work late or come in early. Practically it is pretty impossible to be a single parent unless you earn shedloads or you're on benefits - there is not much middle ground."

Parents working non-traditional hours

"I am just about to start part-time work 22.5 hours a week. I will be doing different shifts each week and, will sometimes have to leave the house just after 6am, and sometimes return after 9:30pm so the usual forms of childcare won't work. I can't afford a nanny or au pair."

"Because of this, my mum is going to have my children for me. She is nearly 60 and works 28 hours a week herself. On her days off, she is going to get up at the crack of dawn and mind my kids so that I can go to work. I will not be able to pay her as I wouldn't get any help towards this as she isn't a registered childminder."

Paying for childcare

Many parents found the support for childcare costs through childcare tax credits or salary sacrifice vouchers was not flexible enough to meet their needs. For some, the type of childcare that would fit in with their working patterns and their families needs could not be paid for through tax credits.

"It's not the wraparound childcare at school that's my problem tbh; it's the lack of an alternative. My kids really, really hate going there, but if I'm to be able to do my job, they have to twice a week, because I can't afford an au pair, which ironically would cost the same as the after-school club but isn't subsidised, and there are simply no suitable childminders around here."

Others found the voucher scheme did not adapt well to a family's changing needs.

"I have three children in variable types of childcare depending on term and holiday and age of child. I have to notify personnel well in advance of changes in amount of sacrifice scheme. They are fed up with me."

Lone parents who earned beyond the childcare tax credit limit but qualified for childcare vouchers felt they were treated unfairly because couples could apply for two lots of vouchers (one for each parent) while they could only receive one.

"As a widow I am angry that childcare vouchers for example can be applied for by both parents - but as I'm on my own I get half of the help when I'm on a single income - so 4x worse off (IYSWIM) - because my husband died!"

"Agree re child care vouchers. It's ridiculous that the payment if per adult not per child so a two parent one child family gets double the money than a single parent two-child family."

Other services

Both mothers and fathers complained about a lack of flexibility from schools and other services, which still seemed to assume one parent was at home during the day.

"Our school has very little understanding of the practicalities for most working parent. Sometimes we are notified of school events with less than a week's notice. For example a letter came home from school last week detailing all the dates for this half term. This included harvest festival, PTA coffee morning and afternoon event for sale of second-hand uniform and to introduce the new school uniform. All three of these are on different day on the same week and in school time!"

"I can't get dental/opticians/doctor appoints for my children outside work hours, school expects me to be there in daytime - there's no email link to the primary school (although there is one to my son's at the secondary), can't talk to benefits people about my mum's needs out of hours and even parking permits have to be sorted in office hours. Everything seems to expect me to be there!"

"I was particularly annoyed by the HV and (immunisation) stuff where they only do them 2-4pm on a Tuesday - and nursery won't have them for 24 hours afterwards. So I complained until the surgery grudgingly let DS have his imms on a Friday pm (same nurse, same place). They assume that mums of preschoolers must not be working."

Lack of flexibility pushes parents into traditional roles

Both the Home Front survey and the discussions revealed that, despite greater expectation of equality among couples before having children, women were still doing most of the domestic work and men were still the main earners.

"Before our children arrived I'd always assumed I'd carry on working / studying / whatever as did DH. In reality I couldn't find any suitable good quality childcare and decided ds1 would be better off staying with me (difficult baby). Then had ds2 and dc3 on way. So looks like it will be a while since cost is a factor now too. Have panicky moments where I think it'll be very hard to get a decent job again and where I worry about the lack of pension contributions and being able to put some savings away. We've had a few wobbles adjusting to one salary and for the last few years dh has chased jobs which earn more to make ends meet which then expect him to work longer hours. So now he hardly sees the boys in the week and is knackered at the weekend. And I do all the daily grind that makes our lives work."

When a couple has a baby the difference in leave entitlements (a year for mothers, two weeks for fathers) means that it is the mother who stays at home, regardless of what the couple might prefer. This establishes the mother as the primary carer from the start. Once maternity leave is over if one partner is going to take a career break or work part time it is more likely to be the mother – she has spent more time with the baby up until then and the pay gap means it usually makes more financial sense for her to give up paid work or reduce hours than for the babies father to reduce his hours.

Part-time work is often insecure and usually less well paid than full-time work; it is hard to find two part-time jobs that pay as well as one full-time and one part-time job. So in most couples at least one partner has to stay in full-time work.

The family income goes down just at the point that expenses go up meaning the main breadwinner (usually the father) needs to work longer hours. This leaves less time for domestic responsibilities, just at the point that these increase. Couples can quickly find themselves in an unexpectedly traditional arrangement.

"Worked full-time for a while after DS but when pregnant with DC2 shifted to part time. At the same time DH changed jobs and now his career is really progressing - but demanding ever longer hours. So we are falling unintentionally into the traditional roles. In a way I don't mind as I have found I want to be around more with the children, but I do wish domestic duties could be a bit more evenly spread and also wish even as a part-time worker I had better career opportunities which I have foregone by choosing to work PT. DH's work are very unflexible whereas my work is more flexible which I don't feel is very fair."

Women responsible for the bulk of domestic work

The Home Front survey showed clearly the extent to which mothers were still responsible for the bulk of family and domestic responsibilities.

Respondents were asked to say who in the household dealt with a variety of household tasks, responsibilities or activities – whether it was mostly themselves, mostly their partner, someone else or equally shared. The charts below show the data based on those who answered the question – those who said 'not applicable' or 'don't know' are excluded.

Although some domestic tasks are shared fairly equally, in many households several were almost always done by women including cooking for children (75%), organising playdates (90%) and organising birthday parties (84%).

Chart 4. Mums' and dads' share of domestic tasks

  Mums answering (%)       Dads anwering (%)      
  Mostly you Mostly your partner Both equally Paid/unpaid
help
Mostly you Mostly your partner Both equally Paid/unpaid
help
Dealing with mortgage (base 2,980) 35 39 26   58 17 25  
Dealing with general family finances (base 3,208) 46 25 29   42 30 28  
Organising household repairs (3,170) 38 29  31  1  43  21  35  
Doing household repairs (base 3,161) 9 53  21  16  66  6  13 14
Cooking for the children (base 3,168) 75 6  17  1  9  65 26  
Reading the children’s bedtime story (base 3,014) 40 12  48    19  25  56  
Supervising children’s homework (base 1,612) 69 4  27    11  46  41  2
Helping out at school/nursery events (base 2,142) 81 3  15    8 61 3  
Taking the children to weekend activities (base 2,901) 30 4  65    12  10  78  
Organising playdates/children's social life (base 2,973) 90 2  8   3  77  19  1
Organising children's birthday parties (base 2,938) 84 0  16    1  68  13  
Organising holidays (base 3,124) 58 6  36   20  34 46  
Arranging grown up nights out (base 2,821) 51 5  43    18  24  58  
Looking after elderly parents/relatives (base 1,181) 45 5  49 1 11  29  

Last updated: almost 2 years ago