A collaborative search for equality: IFF’s crucial Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination findings shared at Brussels seminar

IFF’s Pregnancy and Maternity-Related Discrimination and Disadvantage report made a huge impact when it was published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and BIS (now BEIS) back in 2015, drawing attention to a number of key issues faced by mothers in the workplace. It was exciting, and a testament to the significance of this work, to be asked to present the research in Brussels last month.

The seminar was co-hosted by the European Commission, and Equinet, in partnership with the European Economic and Social Committee entitled ‘Tackling discrimination and ensuring dismissal protection for carers in Europe’. The seminar aimed to bring together and strengthen links between National Equality Bodies and Labour Inspectorates across different European Countries, to explore how to tackle discrimination related to pregnancy, parenthood and caring.

Our research

Our large scale, mixed-method, research programme captured the experiences of both mothers and employers on a range of issues related to managing pregnancy, maternity leave and mothers returning to work.

It was an important programme of work that I was proud to be part of, highlighting the prevalence of possible discrimination with 11% of mothers reporting that they were unfairly dismissed or forced to leave their job and one in five experiencing harassment. Follow the link for further details Click here

The study has personal resonance for me: the 2015 study was completing as I was about to take maternity leave with my second child. And now, three years later, I travelled to Brussels to present it pregnant with my third child. I was aware of how I am in the minority of women who have had a broadly positive experience of navigating work-life balance post-parenthood (a shocking 77% of mothers in our research reported some form of negative or possibly discriminatory experience).

The UK in Europe

I was also acutely aware of myself as a representative of the UK at the event, on the same day that Theresa May arrived in Brussels for a Brexit Summit, which was dominating the news. While the Seminar highlighted some of the current disparities across EU Member States in terms of maternity, paternity and parental leave legislation and practice, the dominant sense was one of collaboration and knowledge sharing, and a strong sense of common interest in working together towards the common goal of gender equality.

Action is being taken at EU level in this area: A key element of the Work Life Balance Package 2017, presented by the European Commission, is an ambitious Directive which sets several minimum standards for parental, paternity and carer’s leave. For the UK, key features would be new entitlement to paid carers’ leave (up to 5 days per year) and a new category of paid parental leave (4 months of non-transferable leave for mothers and fathers which can be taken until the child is 12 years old).

However, the Directive is unlikely to be in place until after March 2019, the likely date of the UK’s exit from the EU. It is currently unclear whether there will be a transitional period where some EU legislation apply in the UK beyond March 2019. while a new UK-EU trading relationship is established.

Collaborative learning

It was clear from the sharing of research findings and case studies at the seminar that the UK and other EU states have much to learn from each other on promoting work-life balance and protecting parents from unfair dismissal.

A key theme of the day was intersectionality, which came out of IFF’s research as well as that presented by the Belgian Institute on Equality between Women and Men and the Danish Institute of Human Rights. The particularly vulnerable position of women with a long-term health condition or disability and/or from an ethnic minority on becoming pregnant was highlighted as a key area for further action.

This seminar provided a platform for comparing progress towards equality in the UK vs other European Countries. The UK tends to sit around the EU average on many measures including the gender gap in employment (the headline indicator of the European Pillar of Social Rights’ social scoreboard for gender equality). The best performers on this measure are Finland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Findings from a Danish survey on Discrimination Against Parents also gave us useful clues to challenges that may lie in the future. In Denmark, where there has been a government campaign to encourage fathers to use their right to parental leave schemes, research findings also show that men are now increasingly experiencing questions about parental planning in job interviews and are increasingly ‘sharing the risk’ of discrimination when they become parents with their female counterparts. The path to increasing female participation in the workforce and reducing the earnings gap will be rocky, and it is useful to learn from the experiences of those EU states that are making better progress on this than the UK.

Research in action: going beyond findings

It is always rewarding as a researcher to see findings being used by those working ‘on the ground’. There was a real spirit of collaboration and commitment to action during the Seminar, as representatives from Equality Bodies and Labour Inspectorates came together in partnership in the breakout groups, using research findings and case studies as stimulus to generate practical ideas of how to tackle discrimination cases in their respective countries.

It was a reminder that there is much opportunity for progress when different bodies with different powers, knowledge and expertise come together. Enhanced co-operation – whether within countries or across EU states – feels essential to bring about the profound structural change needed to labour markets that is necessary for true gender equality.

Department for Education publish two user experience reports featuring research from IFF

The Department for Education has just published the findings of two related studies by IFF Research and University of Derby, that aim to highlight the factors that shape positive user experiences of the EHC planning process, and illustrate good practice in developing EHC plan content.

An Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan sets out the education, health and care support that is to be provided to a child or young person aged 0-25 years who has Special Educational Needs or a Disability (SEND). The studies follow on from a 2016 national survey commissioned by the Department for Education (also conducted by IFF Research and University of Derby) which found variations in how EHC plan recipients experienced the EHC planning process across different local authorities.

The new reports describe the findings of a multivariate analysis of factors affecting satisfaction with the EHC planning process; and of twenty-five face-to-face in-depth interviews with parents involved in the 2016 survey, with the aim of better understanding factors that lead to satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the EHC plan process. Alongside this, University of Derby conducted an evaluation of EHC plan quality focussing on plans provided by 18 of of the 25 parents interviewed.

The evaluation of the EHC plans was conducted by a panel of 10 SEND experts with wide experience as SEND policy advisors, strategic leaders in LAs, specialist advisory teachers, officers in SEN statutory services, Special Needs Co-ordinators, teachers in special and mainstream schools and lecturers.

The full findings can be found on the gov.uk website here.

Does relationship advice help new parents overcome a decline in relationship quality?

An evaluation of perinatal pilots for the delivery of relationship advice has been published by the Department for Work and Pensions following research from IFF.

The study aimed to assess whether the provision of relationship advice helped couples cope better with the strain placed on relationships around the birth of a child.

The main conclusions from the study were:

  • Rolling relationship support into existing antenatal provision is effective for reaching parents.
  • Cementing the provision might need more direct contact with practitioners.
  • The results from the pilot point to a small positive impact on the quality of relationships rather than the slight decline that would normally be expected in new parenthood.

The full evaluation, findings and report summary can be found on the gov.uk website here.

New report published: Understanding the experiences of over 50s following redundancy

An IFF report on the experiences of older workers (aged 50+) following redundancy has been published by the Scottish Government. Its findings featured in a recent Scottish Parliament debate.

Redundancy support in Scotland

Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) is the Scottish Government’s programme for responding to redundancy situations in Scotland. PACE aims to minimise the time people affected by redundancy are out of work by providing skills development and employability support.

IFF has worked with the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) since 2010 to track users’ satisfaction with the variety of services available through PACE, as well as track the training and work outcomes achieved. The latest instalment of the PACE Client Experience Survey was published in October 2016. This again revealed high levels of satisfaction with PACE services (76%) and high rates of people re-entering employment (71%). The vast majority of those who found work did so within 6 months of being made redundant.

Post-redundancy experiences of the over 50s

An interesting story emerges, however, among PACE users aged 50+. Whilst this age group had high levels of satisfaction with PACE, the proportion re-entering the labour market was lower than average. Also, when work was secured by those over 50, the characteristics of these jobs were more likely to compare unfavorably to the job they were made redundant from (in terms of the skills required, level of responsibility and pay), than was the case for younger age groups.

Although 50+ people generally fare worse than their younger counterparts in the labour market, the Scottish Government felt it important to conduct further research in this area and, as part of its continuous improvement programme to enhance the operation of PACE, IFF was commissioned by the Scottish Government and SDS to undertake targeted qualitative research among PACE users aged over 50. The aim of the research was to explore in detail their experiences following redundancy and to identify potential improvements to PACE services to better assist older users.

Key insights from the research include:

  • Older PACE customers being in inferior roles post-redundancy than they were pre-redundancy (compared to younger groups) is not the result of an intention to ‘wind down’ to retirement. The PACE customers interviewed by IFF were generally looking to re-enter the labour market in a job similar to the one they were made redundant from but were unable to do so.
  • The barriers these PACE customers experienced in finding work included a lack of experience in searching for jobs (including CV writing, interview skills and familiarity with online applications), as well as a narrow network of professional contacts due to often working in the same job/company/industry for many years.
  • Most commonly, however, the PACE customers interviewed felt they struggled to secure work due to a perception that employers prefer to recruit younger workers.
  • In terms of ensuring that PACE continues to provide the best service possible to older customers, reinforcing job search advice which tackles unconscious age bias (such as emphasis on skills- and experience-based CVs), and ensuring that advice is tailored as much as possible, would help to serve the distinctive needs of older workers. A continued emphasis on jobs fairs and informal networking sessions (alongside upskilling with modern job searching techniques and platforms, such as LinkedIn) may also help older workers broaden their professional networks.

The full report was published in June 2017 and is available here

Helping PACE to achieve excellence:

The findings of the research were featured in a May 18th Scottish Parliament debate on PACE, led by the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse MSP. The PACE initiative received cross-party recognition for the positive contribution made to people affected by redundancy in Scotland, and renewed impetus to continually seek to improve the service delivered to those made redundant.

To this end, on 14 June a continuing professional development conference for front-line PACE delivery providers titled ‘achieving excellence’ was held in Edinburgh. IFF’s Rowan Foster and Mark Tweddle delivered one of the workshops at the event, providing an opportunity to present and discuss the findings of the 50+ research.

With an ageing population and a rising State Pension Age, it is clear that older workers will increasingly become an important component of the workforce in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Support for this demographic in and out of work will be ever more important. IFF looks forward to supporting governments with the evidence they need to develop policies to rise to meet these challenges.

“[The research by IFF] has highlighted some very useful insights from those who have gone through the redundancy process about the additional barriers that over-50s may face in the labour market − age discrimination and other factors − and the need to better tailor support for those who need more intensive support, in interview and CV preparation.”

Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, Paul Wheelhouse MSP.

A robust guiding principle in a turbulent time?

Post-election welfare policy: a robust guiding principle in a turbulent time?

Following the recent General Election, the UK appears to be entering a period of political upheaval, one in which the orthodoxies of recent years are being re-examined. Some commentators have interpreted the election outcome as a signal from a part of the electorate regarding their preferred type of Brexit, or their views on austerity.

Amidst this grand drama, the specifics of the benefits systems were not mentioned in any great detail (though it remains to be seen how the issue of the triple-lock on pensions will play out as a bargaining chip in Conservative-DUP negotiations). Beyond bringing a new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, what else will this new era mean for welfare and employment policy?

The current guiding principles of the Department for Work and Pensions include:

  • Helping people to work for longer: In the context of an ageing population, by removing the barriers to older people working;
  • Simplification: Joining-up the various strands of benefits and tax credits so that working more always pays and there are fewer ‘cliff edges’ that deter returning to, or increasing engagement in, work;
  • Adopting a joined-up approach to tackling employment and health issues, that recognises the inter-relation of the two: health conditions may become a barrier to work and periods out of work exacerbate health issues, especially mental health ones and, conversely, the enhanced status, structures and income attached to work can have beneficial wellbeing effects. A key ambition of this approach is to barrow the disability employment gap, to bring the levels of individuals with disabilities and limiting health conditions in employment closer to those of the population in general.

Measuring success through research:

Underpinning all of this is an increased commitment to robust experimental evaluation to determine which interventions succeed, with whom, and why.

The Conservative manifesto promised continuity – that the roll-out of Universal Credit will continue and the welfare system will continue to be run “system in accordance with our belief that work is the best route out of poverty, that work should always pay, and that the system should be fair both to the people in need of support and those who pay for it”. With the delicate equilibrium of the current House of Commons, radical revisions to welfare policy seem still more unlikely.

More than this, there is a degree of cross-party consensus regarding some of the very broad underlying principles underpinning the current welfare system approach – particularly UC’s drive to deliver increased simplicity and to make work pay, and the goal of reducing the disability employment gap (even if the approach to implementation is much more hotly debated).

Circumstances also point towards maintaining some aspects of the status quo: even if the tide turns against austerity, the UK still faces an ageing population and likely economic turbulence as we renegotiate fundamental trade relationships with our near neighbours.

All this means that the guiding principle of welfare and employment policy seems likely to be surprisingly durable: continuing to use robust evidence to determine how to target interventions more smartly, to incentivise work, and to achieve more with less.

Predicting the Future in Uncertain Times

Thoughts on the IntoWork Conference, Learning & Work Institute, July 2016

Given recent events, it’s no surprise that this year’s IntoWork conference was rather preoccupied with trying to predict the future. This was no easy task, as the post-Brexit dust has barely had time to settle – a point underlined when, during the opening address – it became apparent that we unexpectedly had a new Prime Minister.

Many of the delegates were involved in the frontline of delivering employment support, and were hoping for a clearer idea about the Department for Work and Pensions’ new Work and Health Programme (the successor to the current Work Programme, that will be more focused on claimant groups with health conditions and disabilities).

Others wanted to know better the likely shape of employment support provision in the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales – and in the Republic of Ireland, which is emulating UK provision in its own recently-launched Job Path.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the answers were a little on the tentative side, though there were some interesting predictions – such as a post-Brexit forecast of 400,000 additional jobseekers – and a number of recurring themes.

Key discussion points:

It seems that fewer contract areas will be the order of the day when employment support services are tendered out – this seems intended to make the contracts sufficiently appealing in the context of a lower-value overall programme (the Work and Health Service) and smaller-scale programmes being put out to tender in devolved nations.

Devolution was another focus point– not just at national level, but to local areas too: there is a clear interest in devolving decision-making about some of the characteristics of employment support to match the needs of the local economy.

Co-location of services and partnership delivery also seem to be central to future delivery – the DWP’s stance seems to suggest that bids that bring in specialist providers – and that do so convincingly, backed up my local networks and relationships – will be looked on more favourably. And apparently the DWP’s evidence indicates these partnerships are never more effective than when delivering from the same premises.

So, all in all, there was little in the way of total certainty – but plenty of food for thought.

The benefit of leaving benefits–in-work conditionality for Universal Credit

“A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show them,” Steve Jobs famously said of the Apple design approach.

That quote came into my mind last week for two reasons. Firstly I attended the launch of the first wave of findings from the ESRC-funded research project ‘Welfare Conditionality: sanctions, support and behaviour change’. Secondly I read the report of the Work and Pensions Select Committee (WPSC) enquiry ‘In-work progression in Universal Credit’.

These reports covered some similar ground, albeit from different angles. The ESRC project will seek to follow over 400 welfare service users (including Universal Credit claimants) over three years to explore their experiences of conditionality and whether it leads to the intended behaviour change. The WPSC enquiry brings together evidence on how to deliver fair and effective support for in-work progression.

Both reports consider conditionality for Universal Credit (UC) claimants who are already in work. Both note that this group have demonstrated their willingness to work by already being in paid employment. Thus, they suggest, we must carefully consider what kind of conditionality is appropriate for this group and how it could be applied. DWP has not yet set out clear policy in this area, pending results of a 3-year pilot.

One thing that is clear though is that to legitimately apply conditionality there must also be sufficient support for claimants to meet those conditions. The ESRC project highlights that there is currently an imbalance between support and conditionality for welfare service users. DWP is currently developing plans for its ‘in-work service’ but we know that Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches will play a core role.

There was much discussion at the launch (as there is in the Select Committee report) about the expanded skillset that Work Coaches will need to create a different type of relationship with customers and their employers. Arguably it will be very different to how they support unemployed claimants. In-work support may not be the typical face-to-face interview, but rather engaging busy people via email, over the phone or through skype.

One critical skill I think Work Coaches will need is the ability to engage in-work claimants with the benefits of progression in work. The benefit of being off Universal Credit. We know that because of conditionality in-work UC claimants will have to look to increase their income above the threshold. But there’s not much about why they should want to progress.

The incentives for Government are clear. Moving people up the earnings scale is expected to increase labour productivity and cut the benefits bill. For the claimants themselves DWP say that “enabling progression in work is central to transforming people’s lives”.

The thing is that people may not necessarily want their lives transforming. A DWP survey of UC claimants found that most were looking to increase their hours and income but it’s worth noting those were largely single claimants. As some of the Select Committee evidence makes clear, many claimants will have a ‘tightly arranged jigsaw’ of support networks, caring arrangements, working patterns. So while a higher income may be attractive it may not seem realistic or worth the additional responsibilities.

Which is where the Steve Jobs quote sprang to mind. What that quote says to me is that Apple is selling a lifestyle, an aspiration. A desire for something more. While Jobcentre Plus isn’t Apple and buying an iPhone isn’t transforming your life, I think there’s something in that idea that could shape how effective Work Coaches can be.

Coaching, as opposed to advising, is about working towards a goal – a goal that the coachee is bought into. You don’t see many Olympians on the podium who are there because someone told them they had to. Their coaches gave them the tools and the encouragement but as individuals they had to have the drive and ambition to get there.

We’ve seen this in practice in the DWP in-work progression advice trial which found very few differences between groups of people who did and did not take job progression advice (including their personal circumstances). The main differences they saw related to individuals’ attitudes to in-work progression and the extent to which they saw their barriers as surmountable.

For me, this goes to the very core of successful in-work support. Currently Work Coaches are starting from ‘this is something you must do so how can I help you to do it?’ But there is a step before that which is about creating the desire and the confidence to progress in work. I think that will be more powerful driver than conditionality.

IFF Research is evaluating one of the externally-led DWP trials, run by Goals UK which will inform the business case for a full in-work service. Goals UK is trialling in-work support for 150 people who are working part-time.

A call for change: Pregnancy and maternity discrimination report published

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is calling for urgent action to be taken by the Government following the publication of the Pregnancy and Maternity discrimination report, prepared by IFF Research.

The aim of the report was to investigate the prevalence and nature of pregnancy and maternity-related discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace surveying 3,254 mothers and 3,034 employers.

The majority of employers reported that it was in their best interests to support pregnant women and agreed that their statutory rights were reasonable and easily implemented.

The findings form the perspective of mothers paints a different picture however

  • 11% reporting that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job.
  • One in five mothers said they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer and /or colleagues.

Our work for EHRC has raised issues that may have otherwise been overlooked and we are proud to be contributing to reports that put people first. Follow the link to read some of the key findings from this report:

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination key findings

IFF Report: Fairness, dignity and respect in SME workplaces

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published an important report from IFF Research to help understand the knowledge, attitudes and practices of SME employers in relation to their duties under the Equality Act 2010.

The findings of this report showed almost all SMEs were confident that their business treats people fairly with only 20% wanting to do more and just 27% agreeing that doing more would benefit the business.

For access to the full report Click Here

Tube Strikes: Public perception and the future of trade unions

Are the negative attitudes to strikes fuelled by resentment towards higher earners and what does the future hold for trade unions?

London commuters have heard that there will be further tube strikes in the near future. The strikes, following a string of disruptions last summer, relate to issues over the introduction of the Night Tube service. The industrial action thus far has provoked a strong reaction from the general public who are becoming increasingly frustrated with disruptions.

As a sub plot to all of this trade unions have been central to negotiations at a time when their existence and influence has been the subject of much debate.

Attitudes towards strikes:

It is understandable that people have been unhappy with the interruptions to the tube service, business owners have been losing money and commuters forced to find alternative routes to work, but there has been a deeper undercurrent of resentment which seems to stem from the fact that drivers are perceived to be well paid relative to the work they carry out (although this is not the reason for strikes taking place this time around it seems to be something people are unable to let go of when these discussions are raised).

This attitude towards the strikes brings up an interesting question;

Why do people resent others who are fighting for better pay and conditions?

It seems as though tube drivers are expected to forgo any right to object to what they deem to be unreasonable demands of them because others may be inconvenienced by their actions.

One explanation for the public resentment is the fact that people feel it is them who will suffer as a result of the demands being accepted; TFL has revealed that the demands of tube drivers would cost £1.4bn and it would be reflected in the cost of future tube fares.

It may be the case that others are unsympathetic because they are unhappy about their own circumstances regarding pay or working conditions. People seem aggrieved by the fact that tube drivers are paid well for a job they feel ‘anyone could do’. In reality these people may simply be wishing to point out the fact that they feel they deserve more for their own work and that it warrants a higher return comparatively.

Either way there seems little sense in begrudging tube drivers their right to better or more acceptable working conditions. It is unfortunate that people would prefer drivers to accept conditions they are unhappy with and not seek to obtain the best level of pay possible.

The role of trade unions:

On the other side of the coin the tube strikes have highlighted the role that trade unions have to play at a time when their future has been brought into question and power diminished with the introduction of the Trade Unions Bill. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Trade Union Membership Report (2014) union membership has continued it’s stable decline with around 6.4 million members in the UK but it’s impact can still be seen.

Research conducted by IFF as part of The Fourth Work-Life Balance Employer Survey (2013) found a number of positive outcomes for workers as a result of union presence:

  • Workplaces were more likely to have a flexible working plan in place and had a greater uptake of flexible hours if they had a union presence (52% of employers with union presence had requests for flexible work compared to 35% without).
  • Union presence saw a greater awareness, allowance and uptake of part time work as well as a greater portion of people taking up part time hours as a means of moving into retirement.
  • Occupational maternity pay was also paid in more establishments with union presence (28% compared to 8% without).

IFF are currently conducting additional research to better understand the role of trade union membership and employer trade union recognition in relation to recent mothers having negative or potentially discriminative experiences at work.

RMT have been very strong in their stance against the proposed introduction of the Night Tube service so far with the launch being continuously pushed back as a result, again highlighting the impact that unions can have.

Click here for information on the work carried out by our Employment and Benefits team.