Inflexible and stressful work 'harming families'

Generic image of man with a baby Fathers are working longer hours and becoming "disengaged" from their children, the report says

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Inflexible and stressful jobs are leaving parents racked with guilt and increasingly distant from their children, according to a Demos report.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has promised to do more for hard-pressed working families, will launch the think tank's study on Monday.

It wants the government to do more to encourage flexible working practices.

And it says more action is needed at a community level to give struggling and isolated parents greater support.

Long hours

Demos polled 1,017 parents for the Home Front report. It found:

  • a third of fathers in the UK work more than 48 hours a week, compared with a quarter of men without children
  • one-in-eight fathers work more than 60 hours a week, and typically, fathers increase their hours after their youngest child reaches the age of six
  • the number of working mothers has gone up from one in six in 1951 to two in three now, with 6% working more than 48 hours and 3% more than 60

Many parents surveyed said they felt guilty about working so much, a feeling that got worse as children got older, and felt they were less effective parents to their second or third child than their first.

Demos said its study showed those negative feelings were felt equally by parents in well-paid, but stressful middle-class jobs and those in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations.

Author Jen Lexmond said: "The right kind of work that is flexible and stimulating can improve parenting, but these kinds of jobs often come hand-in-hand with high levels of stress and emotional exhaustion which can be a toxic mix for parental confidence.

Start Quote

We have to look at ways of working that allow parents to share responsibility”

End Quote Maggie Atkinson Children's Commissioner for England

"What's clear is that our jobs make it difficult to share parenting responsibilities - the result too often being a double shift for mothers and a lack of engagement from fathers."

The report also said parenting was becoming "a more isolated and anxious task" because traditional extended families and strong local communities were increasingly rare.

As a result, parents were forced to rely more and more on friends for help.

The report's recommendations for ministers include:

  • Using the recession and rise in unemployment as an opportunity to encourage businesses to experiment with flexible working
  • Introducing an equal system of parental leave for mothers and fathers with an element of transferability
  • Keeping Sure Start centres open to all, regardless of income, to provide a vital way for new parents to form friendships
  • Directing money to train community organisers to help parents set up new neighbourhood groups
  • Creating parenting refresher classes to boost confidence when children reach primary school age

Children's Commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson, whose office funded the research, said: "The lesson from this is that we have to look at ways of working that allow parents to share responsibility and provide children with the support parents want to give."

Mr Clegg said last week he wanted to stand up for "alarm clock Britain" - basic rate taxpayers who get up in the dark, get their children ready for school and then go out to work, often for long or anti-social shifts.

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