Last reviewed 20 January 2021

Of the over 50,000 working mothers who responded to a TUC survey on the challenges of managing work and childcare during lockdown, nearly three-quarters (71%) of those who have applied for furlough following the latest school closures have had their requests turned down.

Even more — 78% — said that they had not been offered furlough by their employers.

While the Chancellor’s job retention scheme currently allows bosses to furlough parents who are unable to work due to a lack of childcare, the TUC says many mothers are missing out on this financial lifeline as the scheme is not promoted to parents.

Of those who responded to the survey, 40% were unaware that the furlough scheme was available to parents affected by school or nursery closures.

The union body is also concerned that some employers are refusing to furlough those who request it, leaving mothers in “an impossible situation” where they are forced to reduce their hours at work, take unpaid leave and annual leave to cope, or leave their job altogether.

Many respondents told the TUC that they were struggling with the strain of being expected to carry out their jobs as normal, while balancing childcare and homeschooling.

Almost half (48%) were worried about being treated negatively by their employers because of their childcare responsibilities. A similar percentage (44%) said that they were worried about the impact having to take time off work would have on their household finances.

The TUC is calling on ministers to introduce a temporary right to furlough for groups who cannot work because of coronavirus restrictions — both parents and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and required to shield.

It also wants ministers to clarify that furlough can be used by both private and public sector employers for these purposes.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Making staff take weeks of unpaid leave isn't the answer. Bosses must do the right thing and offer maximum flexibility to mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare. And, as a last resort, parents must have a temporary right to be furloughed where their boss will not agree”.

A summary of the survey findings can be found at https://www.tuc.org.uk/workingparents.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

This issue seems to be a moral one at the moment rather than a legal one. It will require government intervention for it to become a case of employers acting unlawfully so, in the meantime, furlough remains at the employer’s discretion if they are experiencing a downturn in business activities.

This call from the TUC may mean, though, that employers need to ready themselves for a response from the Government, whatever that may be.