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How do we ensure women aren’t penalised for becoming parents?

30 November 2018

2:09 PM

30 November 2018

2:09 PM

There’s a moment of realisation that comes to all parent’s post-baby: the flash back to those thoughts we all have that ‘having a baby won’t change us’. I wasn’t going to let my kids watch TV, eat sweets or be ‘that mum’ who cracks open a snack mid shop. Then it came, that thought at the check-out as I handed over an empty pack to the woman with a knowing smile: some elements of parenting are simply not understood until they are lived. The biggest of them all is how on earth we balance parenting and work.

I loved my job, and having consciously moved to a 4-day role pre-baby, I was expecting to slot back in once I’d got over the birth and sleepless nights. Little was I to know it would pan out differently. I shouldn’t have found out that I was unemployed when I saw my name had been removed from the staff list of the website whilst scrolling my phone mid-breast feed. But I did, and things like this happen to over 54,000 women every year.

I then set out to find a new job, and that’s when the realisation truly hit me – the world of work is well and truly set to stitch-up parents. Finding a flexible job in 2018 is akin to finding a golden ticket for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And I’m not alone in believing that it’s time for change.

Many of us fail to plan as we don’t know how we’ll feel about work until our bundle of joy actually arrives. But just as many who do plan are scuppered when their employer tells them that their job can only be done on a full-time basis. Following this ‘cop-out’, they are left with the choice of full-time work – spending all of their salary on someone else taking care of their child – or to quit and become a stay at home parent. More often than not the stay at home choice is down to mum, and that’s where the graphs change. Men’s careers rise as their female counterparts take the tardis back to 1950, and gender pay widens to a 30% gap.

My issue with the immediacy that parents need to decide is that it is upholding lifelong inequality. For example, many women don’t realise that opting out of Child Benefit means they lose out on National Insurance credits, which will impact their State Pension.

Whilst it sounds like a middle class Mumsnet issue, as only families with a high earner lose their entitlement to Child Benefit, be careful. It’s estimated that over 160,000 women have been impacted thus far, and many won’t even know it. We could be facing yet another WASPI scandal.

The odds are stacked against mothers; unpaid care, part-time work that is lower in pay and progression all lead us to the result that women are more likely to end up in poverty in old age than men. Even when it comes to the State Pension, women are being penalised for having children. Royal London have found that the total amount in future pension rights lost since the government changes in 2013 exceed £1bn. This loss of financial independence is damaging in so many ways. How do we ensure women aren’t penalised for becoming parents?

We need to make all work flexible by default, especially now that technology is so advanced. That means that jobs must be open to part-time, job shares, compressed hours, home working, flexible start and finish times and term time working. This should apply to all jobs, unless a credible business case can be made.

The groan from employers will be as loud as the one from factory owners back in the 1870s who were forced to give their workers a half-Saturday off. But with the gender pay gap estimated to close in 200 years, it needs a helping hand. And in a country where families are strapped to rely on a single salary, families need it too.

Sara Rees is a volunteer at Pregnant Then Screwed, a campaign dedicated to ending maternity discrimination. The organisation is hosting a Festival of Motherhood and Work on Saturday 19th January 2019:

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