Have baby, need money ... back to work

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Two-thirds of mothers now return to work after having a baby, an increase of 50 per cent since 1988, according to research published yesterday.

Financial necessity was the biggest reason for returning, the Policy Studies Institute found, which may also be why women are returning sooner after the birth than they used to.

Dr Claire Callender, one of the authors of the research, said that women's behaviour in the labour market has changed significantly in the last 10 years. Employers have responded with some family-friendly policies but, in general, only those which cost little money.

More than three-quarters made some provision for women with children, usually time off for emergencies, and 71 per cent allowed some employees to work flexible or non-standard hours.

Men have also taken advantage of greater flexibility with one-quarter of fathers changing their working patterns after the birth of a baby. They are given an average of four days' paternity leave.

But Dr Callender said there was still a long way to go. Only 2 per cent of employers operated a workplace creche or nursery and one workplace in ten offered any practical help with children for employees. Large public- sector employers proved the most helpful.

It was clear from the high numbers of women returning that the majority of families could no longer survive on one income. "When asked, `why do you return?' the answer right across the spectrum from top professionals to cleaners is `I need the money'," Dr Callender said.

Employers needed to be encouraged to provide more flexible and family- orientated working arrangements for all parents, she said. Those who did so stood a much greater chance of their women staff returning.

Changes in legislation during 1994 gave all women who were in work when they became pregnant 14 weeks statutory leave and made other changes to maternity rights. Only 1 per cent of employers employing women said the legislation had caused them problems.

The research was funded by the Departments of Social Security, Trade and Industry and Education and Employment. Harriet Harman, the Secretary of State for Social Security, said that it provided a great deal of important information.

"One of the Government's key aims is to promote measures that will help people to balance the demands of work and family life. We will do all we can to encourage employers to make improvements in the workplace generally, in particular in the provision of flexible and family-friendly working arrangements," Ms Harman said.