Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 11:46 UK

More parents to get flexible work

Harriet Harman says parents must be able to spend enough time with their children

Millions of parents with older children are now able to ask employers for flexible work arrangements, rather than just those with children under six.

The extension of the current set of arrangements will include 4.5m parents of children aged 16 and under.

The government said it wanted to help families balance work and home lives.

Meanwhile, all expectant mothers who seek health advice from a doctor or midwife can now apply for a one-off, tax-free payment of £190.

The right to ask employers for flexible working hours was previously limited to parents of children up to the age of six or disabled children aged up to 18.

But following a recommendation made by an independent review last year, the extension now means a total of 10 million parents will be entitled to request flexible working.

Harriet Harman, minister for Women and Equality, said mothers often "tear their hair out" while bringing up children and trying to earn a living.

A survey of 1,000 parents by the government's Equalities Office suggested half believed their relationship with their child would improve if their work hours were more flexible.

The conflict that often seems to exist between family and work is so unnecessary and counterproductive.
Sarah Jackson, Working Families

Two thirds said it would be helpful to work flexibly as their children became older, and half of parents whose children were aged between 11 and 16 said they would help with homework if they could find the time.

Ms Harman said: "Children don't stop needing their parents' time when they reach their sixth birthday.

"We have already built a strong foundation of support for families through the right for parents with children under six to request flexible work.

"But, as any parent knows, older children going through the teenage years need just as much support and guidance."

She later told the BBC: "It means employers can't say 'I can't be bothered to think about that, these are your hours, you can take it or leave it'.

"It is reasonable for employers to recognise that a lot of people they're employing are parents as well.

"They're fathers of children, they're mothers of children, and it's in everybody's interest that the next generation are able to be properly brought up by their parents."

Company benefits

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of campaign group Working Families, said: "The conflict that often seems to exist between family and work is so unnecessary and counterproductive.

"I would particularly encourage men to consider working flexibly as that has the potential to create stronger families and go some way to addressing the inequalities that still exist in the home."

This only gives employees the right to ask and doesn't put the onus on employers to act on it
A Hunt, Kent

The move is backed by the Confederation of British Industry, but the CBI has warned that firms may find it difficult to grant requests for flexible working during the recession.

Trades Union Congress general secretary Brendan Barber said the extension would be "good news" for employers.

He added: "Companies whose workers enjoy the benefits of flexible working are likely to feel less stressed and less anxious about balancing their lives at home and work, which means they are more committed and productive while at work."

Meanwhile, the new payment for pregnant women - called the Health in Pregnancy Grant - is intended to help expectant mothers stay healthy in the run up to the birth and help meet some of the extra costs.

All mothers-to-be can ask for a claim form from their midwife at their first antenatal appointment after the 25th week of pregnancy.

The grant is payable to all women irrespective of their income. It is not taxable and will not affect other benefits such as tax credits, Income Support or Jobseekers Allowance.


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