APPG on Family-Friendly and Flexible Working

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Jennifer Amphlett from Zurich Yasmin Qureshi MP Alesha De-Freitas MBE from the Fawcett Society Working Families CEO Jane van Zyl

The inaugural meeting focusses on women at work

Last week I was delighted to attend the inaugural All Parliamentary Party Group (APPG) meeting for Family-Friendly and Flexible Working.

The background

Timed to coincide with International Women’s Day and month, the panel was chaired by Yasmin Qureshi MP, and included Alesha De-Freitas MBE from the Fawcett Society, Jennifer Amphlett from Zurich, and Working Families CEO Jane van Zyl. The discussion kicked off with a note on the very positive introduction of a revision to the timescale for requesting flexible working. Currently in the UK, you need to have been working with your employer for a period of 26 weeks before you can apply for flexible working. This may include asking for a reduction of hours, compressed working hours or changes to shift patterns. From 6 April 2024, legislative revisions will take affect and you can apply for such changes from day one. Your employer still has the right to offer a compromise or turn down such requests as they can now, but it is hoped that with the potential for more flexibility people will be encouraged back to work. This could really help those who are actively looking for employment but unable to find a role that suits their needs or commitments outside the workplace.

As some of you will know, many moons ago I worked in Human Resources. The option for staff to work flexibly has long been something that I have taken a keen interest in. I believe in having a work-life balance, that suits the individual whilst also retaining or recruiting the skills required by an employer. 

Change is needed

All that said, Working Families produced a report, Women at Work in 2024, to review the take up of flexible working and whether or not it is being used by employees to provide a better individual balance. After the pandemic 70% of workers report having flexibility in their roles, which is fantastic on surface level. When you dive into the statistics though, many people who report working flexibly are now working from home or have some form of hybrid working. Working hours have not necessarily changed and the pressure on, especially women, to provide care to their families remains.

There are more barriers that need to be broken down to realise the full potential of the legislation, too. Childcare and social care changes are needed, which would help family members to work. According to the most recent data from the Office of National Statistics, of all the men who are currently economically inactive, 9.5% would like to work but are prevented from doing so by looking after their family and home. This compares to a large 31.9% of women who are currently economically inactive and want a job, but are looking after family and their home.

The panellists agreed that whilst the new legislation brings with it much optimism, there is still a lot of work to do to encourage take up.

Successes

There are success stories. Since 2019, Zurich have advertised all roles as having flexibility. They have taken care with and paid particular attention to their language as well, to ensure that it is inclusive. Their successes include an increase of women being recruited to senior roles by a whopping 45%, and has seen their board members increase from one to six women sitting as part of the body.

What’s next

Yasmin Qureshi, MP, said:

“Conversations around flexible working such as these don’t just highlight what needs to change, but how it can happen. Hearing from businesses that are reaping the benefits of advertising all jobs with flexibility, and other practical ideas, helps move the dialogue beyond flexible working being a ‘nice to have’ to something that can close the gender pay gap and boost our economy.

“The new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, which I introduced as a bill to the House last year, is a strong start in enabling better access to flexible working for parents and carers, and the APPG will continue to focus on legislative and other changes that mean everyone can access the working arrangements they need.”

Jane van Zyl, CEO at Working Families, said:

“It’s an incredible moment to see the coming together of businesses, policymakers and the charity sector who are all invested in progressing flexible working for the benefit of all. The discussion was positive and hopeful, and everyone involved is committed to driving forward change that will make our economy stronger, families get the balance they need, and individuals reach their potential.”

So in summary, a fantastic start and much optimism, but more to be done. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Yasmin Qureshi MP Jennifer Amphlett from Zurich Alesha De-Freitas MBE from the Fawcett Society Working Families CEO Jane van Zyl

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