New research from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) reveals that many parents are struggling to find the time they want to spend with their children – particularly those with lower incomes.
The research, from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), involved interviewing 30,000 parents of 19,000 children born in 2000/01.
The MCS found that mothers and fathers in poorer families were less likely to spend paid time off around the birth of their children, very few used formal childcare and flexible working was more available to higher income families.
The introduction of better maternity and paternity leave since 2003 has helped to reduce the divide between the ‘have and have nots’; both parents today are spending more time-off around the birth of their child and enjoying greater access to formal childcare.
Another factor in helping families to work and spend time with their children has been the growth of flexible working, spurred on by the right to request flexible working,
But more recent research shows that an income divide still remains: fathers in low-income families are less likely to take two weeks’ paid paternity leave and formal childcare is too expensive for many parents.
Other findings from the MCS include:
- Less than three in ten millennium children are brought up in a ‘breadwinner dad, homemaker mum’ family at the age of three – the shape of the modern family is more diverse than ever, with both parents often in employment
- Children who, at 9-10 months received formal childcare, while their mothers worked had a lower likelihood of development problems at age three
- There was no evidence that mothers’ employment influenced the extent of development problems in three-year-old children
- 63 per cent of working fathers felt they did not spend enough time with their 9-10 month baby
- Development problems for children were associated with dads taking no time off around the birth of their children and not using flexible working.
EOC chairman Jenny Watson said: “There is no evidence from this research that a mother returning to work when a child is young influences the extent of development problems for children.
“Instead, these problems are associated with dads taking no time off around a child’s birth, and then not using flexible working when a child is young. So if we are to create the best outcomes for children we need to make it possible for both mothers and fathers to spend the time they would like with their young families.
“A worrying divide exists between ‘have’ and ‘have not’ families. Families on low incomes still struggle to afford formal childcare such as nurseries and childminders, even though the research shows that it benefits children.
“Dads in poorer families are less able to afford two weeks’ paternity leave when their baby is born, despite wanting to be involved. To close this divide, we need to give families more choice about childcare and flexibility at work.
“There is a clear case for continuing investment into support for the modern family, which needs to reflect the reality of how parents live their lives today – supporting families where both parents work as well as the minority of ‘homemaker mum, breadwinner dad’ families that exist in Britain today.”
The EOC wants to see greater support for modern families, including:
- Greater access to affordable, formal childcare, so that lower income and larger families are able to use it
- Extending the right to request flexible working to everyone, including the parents of older children, so that flexible working becomes more widespread
- Parental choice about who looks after the baby, with the early introduction of the promised additional parental leave, which can be taken by either parent in the second six months
- Targeted support for low-income fathers, so that they can afford to take time off to spend time with their children
- Better social support services and investment in independent living to help older people, people with a disability or long-term health condition to make their own decisions about their lives and stay in their own homes if they wish.