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Last Updated: Monday, 12 February 2007, 10:31 GMT
Call for flexible working for all
London commuters
Ms Hughes is arguing for a change in working culture in the UK
Workers without children should get the same right to request flexible working hours as parents, a minister has said.

Beverley Hughes said the move would help all 29 million UK workers balance their home and work lives better.

The children's minister wrote: "We must redefine the 'ideal worker' and accept it is a fantasy to expect people to have none other than work commitments."

Ms Hughes' comments come in a book to be published in May to mark 10 years since Labour's 1997 election victory.

"Work-life balance is still unobtainable for many low-income families, where the impact of low pay, job insecurity and long or atypical working hours bite hardest," Ms Hughes wrote.

In the book, commissioned by think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, she argues the best way to help children see more of their parents is for Britain's working culture to change.

'Balancing act'

Currently, parents of children under the age of six, or disabled children under 18, are the only ones who have the right to request flexible working.

The right will be extended to people with a caring responsibility from April, but Ms Hughes said everyone should be able to ask their employer if they could change their working patterns.

Only by having a gradual and phased extension can we avoid firms being deluged under a sudden increase in requests
Susan Anderson

She also argued that all jobs should be advertised as part-time, job-share or flexi-time unless there was a sound business case not to.

The minister suggested that paternity leave should be doubled to a month, while maternity and paternity pay should rise.

Offering flexitime to all workers could seriously damage some industries

"Growing numbers of women at work has, in practice, often resulted in women having two jobs - a new professional one plus the old domestic one.

"We need to help families negotiate the balancing act between care work and paid work, avoiding negative trade offs between time and money."

Graeme Cooke from the IPPR said the proposal was not about working less, but "working smarter".

"The notion of a rigid nine-to-five working day is, in most cases, totally inappropriate to modern family life.

"So extending the right to request flexible working to all employees would help mums and dads combine work with modern family life and caring for their children, would allow all adults to deal with the pressures of modern life - because we all have a life outside work - and it would be good for the economy and for business as well, by increasing staff morale and commitment."

'Work-life balance'

Equality campaign group the Fawcett Society welcomed Ms Hughes' comments.

Director Katherine Rake said: "For too long women and men have had to make a choice between concentrating on family life and missing out at work, or pursuing their career and not having time to spend with their families.

"This has often meant women are the losers at work and men sacrifice active fatherhood. Beverley Hughes' proposals could go a long way to enabling both women and men to get a work-life balance."

But the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) sounded a note of caution.

Susan Anderson, the CBI's director of HR policy, said it was vital that the impact of April's law change was "fully reviewed" before any new groups were included.

"Only by having a gradual and phased extension can we avoid firms being deluged under a sudden increase in requests."

Poor 'may start learning at two'
20 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
Profile: Beverley Hughes
09 May 05 |  Election 2005

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