Blog by Lizzie Flew, Child Poverty Action Group, a member of Hackney Citizens
We know that child poverty in working families is rising even as employment is at a record high. Indeed 70% of children living in poverty are in working families. It’s right to celebrate high levels of employment, but it’s not right if that employment comes with high levels of insecurity and unpredictability – as it often does for those on a low income. Some parents are having to worry about whether they’ll get enough hours next week, or to deal with the fallout when they have juggled their childcare to make it work and then their shift gets cancelled at the last minute. These situations cause financial hardship and unnecessary distress. The Living Hours campaign from the Living Wage Foundation is a vital step forward in tackling this.
To manage our finances, we all need to know what money is coming in and when. This is particularly important when money is tight. The government should do its part by fixing universal credit so that it works for working families, and employers should do theirs by giving people guaranteed hours. The Living Hours campaign is calling for a guaranteed minimum of 16 hours a week. To tackle in-work poverty, it’s vital that parents have certainty over their hours so they have certainty over their earnings.
To manage our family lives, we all need to know when we’re going to be working well in advance. Formal childcare can’t usually be arranged in an ad-hoc way, so if a parent gets little notice of shifts that makes childcare very difficult. If shifts are then cancelled at short notice and they’ve already paid for childcare, families are left out of pocket. For parents juggling work and caring responsibilities, the hours they work are clearly very important. When we surveyed low-income parents in 2017, 64% of those who told us they don’t have a great work/life balance say that more predictable working hours would improve that. The government should bring in a national childcare strategy to ensure cost, quality or availability of childcare is not a barrier to work, including through a comprehensive extended schools programme, and employers should ensure parents have as much notice as possible of when they’re working. The Living Hours campaign is calling for decent notice periods for shifts (at least 4 weeks’ notice), which will help parents to plan and manage their caring responsibilities.
Beyond good pay, we know that many parents want more security and control in their working lives. Living Hours is an important step forward for low-income families.