Parents forced to reduce their working hours in order to accommodate childcare responsibilities during the Covid-19 lockdown should be reimbursed by the Treasury, experts have said.
As the summer term begins following the Easter break, a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned some parents could be forced to spend virtually the entire day balancing the demands of their jobs without greater flexibility on when they can work.
The IFS study found school closures and restrictions on leaving the house will directly impact around half of children’s waking hours.
The report calls on the chancellor to consider extending 80% wage replacement to employees who reduce their working hours to accommodate childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.
Parents who choose to give up work completely during the lockdown in order to look after children are already eligible to have 80% of their earnings paid by the Treasury.
In a new briefing, the IFS notes that working parents already spent around 60% of their non-sleeping time either working or with their children before the coronavirus pandemic.
Now parents are facing greater responsibilities amid school closures and social distancing measures, at the same time as many are working from home.
Schools, colleges and nurseries across the UK closed four weeks ago to the majority of pupils, apart from the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters.
The IFS report analysed data collected for parents and children aged eight and older in 2014–15 to shed a light on the groups that may be significantly affected by new social distancing rules.
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said: "We also want to make sure that those most vulnerable children who will be most affected by being away from school for a significant period of time get the right kind of support so that we don't see disadvantage further entrenched.
"Because we know that this crisis will exacerbate existing inequalities within society."
Before the pandemic, children aged eight and older spent on average around 30 hours a week at school during term-time and another 22 hours a week on activities outside the home.
Angus Phimister, a research economist at IFS, said: “Working parents already spent around two-thirds of their waking hours at work or with their children; if they need to supervise all of their children’s disrupted time, this could take up virtually the entire day for some.”
Christine Farquharson, a senior research economist at IFS, said: “Working parents will need flexibility on when – not just where – they do their work.
“Parents who give up work completely during the lockdown are already eligible to have 80% of their earnings paid by the Treasury.
“But the Chancellor should consider extending the programme to reimburse lost earnings for parents who choose to work fewer hours. This could be a costly giveaway, but it would give families the flexibility to make the best choice for themselves.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “The Chancellor has outlined an unprecedented package of measures to protect millions of people’s jobs and incomes as part of the national effort in response to coronavirus.
When schools first closed, Katy Simpson, a teacher from Southwell in Nottinghamshire, told ITV News: 'I think the main advice really is not to panic', advice which still stands as the summer term begins
“People who are unable to work because they’re caring for a child or a vulnerable family member or friend should speak to their employer about whether they plan to place their staff on furlough.
"The Government will cover 80% of the salary of furloughed workers.”
Another study highlighted concerns that children from deprived backgrounds are most likely to fall behind during the lockdown.
The Sutton Trust found private school pupils are more than twice as likely to attend online classes every day than their state school counterparts in.
The Trust said this is in part due to resources – when schools closed 60% of teachers in private schools had access to an online learning platform, compared with just 23% of teachers in the most deprived state schools.
The report found that in the most deprived schools, 15% of teachers report that more than a third of their students learning from home would not have adequate access to an electronic device for learning, compared to only 2% in the most affluent state schools.
Teachers in the most deprived schools are also more than twice as likely to say that work their students are sending in is of a much lower quality than normal (15% vs 6%), the report said.
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