'Family friendly' employment policies benefit the middle classes more than low-paid parents

February 22, 2001

The growth of working parenthood, encouraged by the government's welfare-to-work and 'family friendly' employment policies, will be experienced very differently by secure middle class families than by poor parents in low-paid jobs, according to ESRC-funded research.

This is the conclusion of new ESRC-funded research by Professor Hartley Dean of the University of Luton. The middle classes are likely to enjoy assisted childcare, career breaks and time off when needed. The low-paid, in contrast, are likely to be dependent on unassisted childcare from family or friends and to receive minimal concessions from reluctant employers.

Professor Dean will present his findings, which are based on in-depth interviews with 47 low- income working families and half a dozen major employers, at the annual conference of the Radical Statistics Group in London on 24 February. He has also drawn on them in a response to the recent Green Paper, Work and Parents.

The research says that:With working parenthood becoming the norm in the context of a low-wage economy, Professor Dean's findings have a number of implications for policy if the poorest workers are to have the same substantive protection as better paid workers:

1. They must be adequately protected by the benefits system, both in and out of work.

2. Childcare provision must be universally accessible. There must be other provision than just the childcare businesses that are emerging to serve the needs of higher income families.

3. Statutory minimum entitlements to paid leave for both mothers and fathers are required, subsidised, if necessary, by the government.

4. There should be legislation expressly to prevent parents from being discriminated against or victimised in connection with their employment.

Professor Dean concludes:

'The government is in danger of falling between not two, but three stools. It wants to abolish child poverty by getting mums and dads out to work, it wants to make it easier to combine work and family life, but at the same time it would like to be "business friendly".'

'I'm not sure it can do all three things at once. If the government wants to make sure that poor working parents get the same opportunities as other parents, it may need to do more to meet their particular needs and it may have to upset business by doing more to regulate low-paying employers.'
For further information, contact Hartley Dean on 01582-743063 (direct), 01582-743085 (messages) or email: hartley.dean@luton.ac.uk Or, Lilian El-Doufani or Lesley Lilley in External Relations at the ESRC on 01793-413032 or 01793 413119


1. The research project was entitled 'Working Strategies in Low Income Families'. Hartley Dean is Professor of Social Policy at the University of Luton.

2. These research findings will be presented at the annual conference of the Radical Statistics Group - On the Margins: Low Pay or No Pay - to be held in London on 24 February.

3. The ESRC has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests around £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is http://www.esrc.ac.uk

4. REGARD is the ESRC's bibliographic database accessible via the World Wide Web. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at http://www.regard.ac.uk

Economic & Social Research Council
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