Breadwinning mothers face flexibility barrier, says IPPR

259777175_17826bd2f9_oMore working women are ‘breadwinners’ than ever before, with 2.2 million now earning as much as or more than their partner, or bringing in the sole household income.

Research by think-tank the Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR) shows this has risen 83% since 1996/97 when 1.2 million UK working mothers fell into this category. It said policy needs to keep up with changing cultural trends, and pointed to flexible working opportunities as a key issue for women, along with affordable childcare and the gender pay gap.

Raising the quality and accessibility of flexible work is important, the IPPR said. It pointed to European examples of part-time work being used as a tool to retrain workers and promote family-friendly working, whereas in the UK part-time work tends to be concentrated in low-pay occupations.

“The lack of flexible working, and the low pay associated with part-time working in the UK will continue to constrain choices for many women – and mothers in particular… More high-quality, better paid part-time jobs are required in order to address increased flexibility at the bottom end of the labour market,” it said.

However, the IPPR said government should also look at more radical ways to work flexibly, such as a German scheme introduced in 2012 which allows employees to reduce their working time to a minimum of 15 hours for up to two years to care for a dependent. During the scheme pension contributions are continued and the wage reduction is less than the hour reduction. This is paid back by reduced earnings when they return to work – allowing families to spread the cost over time.

“This insurance-type scheme provides the flexibility that employees require while protecting them against fluctuations in their income, and gives assurance and stability to employers,” said the report.

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