More than seven in ten requests for furlough from working mums have been rejected by bosses, the Mirror can reveal.
A TUC survey of more than 50,000 women found that 71% of those who asked following school closures were turned down.
Huge numbers of working parents – two in five of the total – did not realise they have been entitled to request furlough since March.
The job retention scheme currently allows bosses to furlough parents who can’t work due to school or nursery closures.
The TUC wants ministers to clarify that furlough can be used by both private and public sector employers so staff can look after their kids.
And the union body is calling for an emergency temporary right to furlough for working parents if bosses say no.
Before it is taken, though, they want employers to discuss all the options with staff – and guarantee them protections when they return.
Almost half of respondents to the survey fear they will be treated negatively by their employers because of difficulties with childcare.
Thousands of women across the country have been forced to reduce their hours at work, take unpaid leave or holiday to cope, or leave their jobs altogether.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The safety of school staff and children must always come first.
“But the Government’s lack of support for working parents is causing huge financial hardship and stress – and hitting low-paid mums and single parents hardest.
“Just like in the first lockdown, mums are shouldering the majority of childcare. Tens of thousands of mums have told us they are despairing.
“It’s neither possible nor sustainable for them to work as normal, while looking after their children and supervising schoolwork.
“Making staff take weeks of unpaid leave isn’t the answer.
“Bosses must do the right thing and offer maximum flexibility to mums and dads who can’t work because of childcare.
“And as a last resort, parents must have a temporary right to be furloughed where their boss will not agree.”
The survey, conducted between 7-10 January, found that most working parents – 78% – haven’t been offered furlough by their employers.
And of those who asked for furlough 71% – one in 16 of the total respondents – had their requests refused.
Around half (44%) of mums told the TUC they were worried about the impact having to take time off work would have on their household finances.
A quarter (25%) were using annual leave to manage their childcare.
But nearly one in five (18%) have been forced to reduce their working hours and one in 14 (7%) are taking unpaid leave.
Campaigner Anna Whitehouse, founder of website Mother Pukka, launched a call for evidence with the TUC for working mums to share their experiences.
She told the Mirror: “What working parents have been tasked with in lockdown is not humanly possible.
“You’re looking at an average eight hour working day, six hour school day, 12 hours of parenting wrapped around that – that’s 26 hours in a 24 hour day.
“I’m hearing daily from women who are stepping back, standing down and logging off because they’re burning out. Some are quitting out of choice, many are not.
“One thing that can change right now is businesses offering the right to flexible furlough. Companies need to step up for parents before we step back to the 1950s.”
Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed Joeli Brearly said: “The parents of young children are currently being asked to either sacrifice their income or their child’s education and care – placing them in an impossible situation.
“We know that this burden is predominantly falling to mothers, and the consequences for maternal employment will be disastrous.
“What we are seeing here is a cry for help on a massive scale.
“This is an emergency and if the Government doesn’t step in soon there will be a generational roll back in maternal employment that will take us decades to repair.”
In the Commons yesterday, Labour MP Tracy Brabin called on ministers to “identify the gaps” in economic support offered and to “right this wrong without delay”.
She said zero hour workers in the events industry, freelancers plus recent entrepreneurs or the newly self employed had all fallen through the gaps.
“So many have lost their jobs, so many businesses gone under, for some the Government has stepped in, a financial safety net, but for so many others, our fellow taxpayers, they have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves,” she said.
A Treasury spokesman said: “It’s been clear since the first lockdown that employers can furlough eligible employees who are required to shield, or those with childcare responsibilities, including because of school closures.”
- 6.8 million people were on to furlough by the end of March 2020.
- This number peaked at 8.9 million in early May and has been falling ever since.
- The latest estimates for December are that 2.9 million were on furlough.
- Gender breakdowns only began in July.
- The latest HMRC figures, from October, show that since July more women have been furloughed than men.
- In October there were 1.19 million women furloughed, compared to 1.14 million men.
‘Classed as a key worker’
A single mum has been denied furlough by her firm because she is classed as a key worker.
It has forced the project manager from Portsmouth, 30, to slog through 14-hour days as she juggles her job with caring for her daughter, aged three.
The toddler is unable to attend nursery due to health problems which would put her at risk if she contracted Covid-19.
She told the Mirror she is “exhausted” and feels her employers have not been supportive.
“Honestly I’m just shattered,” she said. “I just feel so many people are. But there’s nothing you can do about it.
“It’s just a juggling act. I am working from 6.30am because I try to get up before my daughter wakes up to get things done, and work until 8 or 9pm.
“Then I am working on weekends when she’s with her dad to try and keep on top of things. I do nothing other than work or childcare.”
She requested furlough during the first lockdown when she was not only caring for her daughter, but also her ex-partner who was bed-bound from surgery.
However the following day she received a letter classing her as a key worker.
She feels her company could easily spare her, but believes they are not furloughing staff because “they don’t want to look bad”.
‘Homeschooling a five-year-old while 20-weeks pregnant’
A financial services worker from Doncaster requested furlough in both lockdowns as she struggles to homeschool her five-year-old while 20-weeks pregnant.
But both times her firm told her they do not participate in the furlough scheme.
The exhausted mum, 33, told the Mirror she has “nothing left to give”.
She said: “I can’t say that I’m managing to be honest. I get up at about five o’clock so that I can do about two hours of work before my daughter wakes up. Then it’s breakfast.
“While she eats I try and do a bit more – then it’s homeschooling.”
She is often working until 10 or 11pm as she struggles to complete her hours.
The mum, whose pregnancy is classed as high risk, fears for the health of her unborn child after she lost a baby last year.
“I’m just keep thinking it’s going to happen again” she added. “I’m too stressed and wound up – I’m not enjoying this pregnancy like I should.”
The worker believes her company easily has the capacity to cover her workload and fears she has missed out on promotions due to her childcare commitments.
“It is a large company I work for, so I can’t imagine that I’m the only person in this situation.
“But my line manager told me I am the only person in my area struggling with childcare this lockdown, which I find really hard to believe.”
‘It would open the floodgates’
When a mum-of-two asked to be furloughed part-time, she was told it was not possible because it could open the floodgates for other parents to do the same.
The project manager from the East Midlands told the Mirror that she sat watching the lockdown announcement in tears.
She said: “I literally sat crying watching the announcement thinking, oh no, how am I going to be able to cope?
“I quite quickly decided I would request furlough on a part time basis. I put some options forward to my line manager who put it to a senior manager, but I was told that they don’t want to furlough anyone.”
The manager also told the mum the company did not want to furlough anyone amid fears it could lead to redundancies in the department in upcoming cost-cutting measures.
The 37-year-old is now waking up at 6am to catch up on emails before her girls, aged two and four, wake up.
Her husband is an essential worker and her parents, who she used to rely on for childcare, are no longer able to help as they are classed as vulnerable.
She added: “I have to homeschool my eldest because she’s in reception. She has to be online for registration at 9.10, so that’s 9am meetings out of the window. She can’t operate the computer on her own so she needs to be supervised.
“I have got a two-year-old as well who needs attention. It’s tiring.”