The letter from Anneliese Dodds, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, to Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 4 January 2021.
Dear Chancellor of the Exchequer,
I am writing to you regarding the impact that delaying the re-opening of schools will have on parental employment. While I appreciate that the reopening of schools may need to be delayed for public health reasons, I am concerned about the knock-on impact that school closures, especially primary school closures, will have on the employment of parents.
School and childcare closures mean that children are at home and require care. Since the initial lockdown in March 2020 research studies have found that school closures affected parents’ employment and gender equality. The ONS found that women spent more time doing unpaid work such as childcare and less time on paid work than men. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that mothers were more likely to have quit or lost their job since the start of the pandemic.
We risk a repeat of this situation as a result of the latest round of school closures, setting back parental employment and gender equality even further.
This is not inevitable, and there are several actions you can take that limit the impact that the delay in schools re-opening will have on parental employment. While the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be used by employers to keep parents in employment if they are unable to work from home but have additional childcare responsibilities, this is not currently being communicated to employers, parents and schools sufficiently. There are also issues with the design and eligibility rules of the CJRS that reduce its effectiveness in preserving parental employment.
To rectify this situation, I am calling on you to:
Immediately update employee-facing guidance to make clear that employees can be furloughed because of childcare responsibilities. This is currently only set out in the guidance to employers but not the guidance to employees.
Promote the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to parents and employers, making it clear that childcare responsibilities resulting from coronavirus confer eligibility for furlough.
Specifically promote the flexible element within the CJRS, so parents and employers know they can be furloughed for part of their working hours.
Step-up communication of the critical workers list so that schools, individuals and their employers are clear about which children can and should remain in school. Research has found that some groups, such as food retail workers, were not recognised by schools as critical .
Urgently change the rules governing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme so that organisations fully funded via public grants can use the scheme for parents if needed. Currently only organisations not fully funded by public grants can access the scheme.
Assess whether the current employer contribution within the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, covering National Insurance and pension contributions, are acting as a disincentive for employers to furlough parents.
As soon as possible, bring forward a strategy setting out how parents who have sadly lost their jobs will be supported to re-enter work, including how the recently announced Restart scheme will be tailored to the particular needs of job seekers who are parents.
The above actions would mitigate against a further damaging wave of job losses among parents, promote gender equality and ensure that parents are better able to do the right thing, providing care to their children while promoting public health. Labour stands ready to support these changes and I look forward to your reply.
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer