Calls for employment law change as parents routinely forced to use holiday leave to look after sick children

Calls for UK to introduce paid leave for parents to care for sick children

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Thursday 07 October 2021 21:12
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<p>While around three in ten had taken unpaid leave, one in ten cut down their hours or dropped work they had lined up</p>

While around three in ten had taken unpaid leave, one in ten cut down their hours or dropped work they had lined up

Parents are being forced to use holiday leave to look after their children when they get sick, a new study has found.

The research, carried out by Mumsnet and veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, found almost nine in 10 parents had taken time out of work to care for a primary school-aged child who fell sick, with around four in ten having taken holiday leave to do so.

While around three in ten had taken unpaid leave, one in 10 cut down their hours or dropped work they had lined up.

Researchers, who polled more than 1,000 parents across the UK, with the overwhelming majority being mothers, found seven per cent had taken sick leave and two per cent had been forced to leave their job.

Some nine in 10 British parents say they would support extending sick leave for parents when their children are unwell.

One mother said: “I can't afford to lose wages and I am sick of using annual leave as it means I have no break or holiday every year nor does my annual leave stretch the entire half term or summer holidays which means that my husband and I are like a tag team.

“I can't remember the last time all four of us - myself, husband and two kids - had days off together. It's depressing.

“It’s realistic to expect that children will be poorly. I have sent my child in when he was ill as I couldn’t take time off work. He has probably made other children ill but I was unable to take any more time off.”

Justine Roberts, founder and chief executive of Mumsnet, said most “economically developed” nations provide paid leave for parents to give sick children short-term care.

Ms Roberts noted in their forums they see parents being forced to send sick children to school - noting this has negative consequences for fellow students and staff working at the school.

Meawhile, Ms Harman, Labour MP and chair of Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: “Public policy is completely out of date. Mothers are working now and not at home to look after a sick child. You can’t leave a young child on their own when they’re sick.

“But there’s no right to take time off, let alone sick pay. Of course, this hits hardest at those in lower-paid jobs. The forthcoming Employment Bill is our chance to insist that we put this right.”

Before the pandemic, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) found the UK already had one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world.

But the childcare sector has been plunged into further chaos in the wake of the Covid crisis – with a study carried out by the Labour Party at the beginning of the year revealing almost 20,000 childcare providers are at risk of permanently closing their doors within six months.

One woman said: “Children become sick. At the end of the day, someone needs to look after them. I feel this would make life easier for a lot of people as I find myself stressing about money and my sick child when I should just be worrying about my child.”

Another mother said: “I left a previous job as I wasn’t allowed time off - paid or unpaid - and had no other option.”

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