Passing the Buck: Unpaid Care, Precarious Work and the Children and Families Bill 2013
AbstractMy current research focuses on gaps in UK law which exclude women in precarious work from using work-life balance mechanisms. UK government policy-makers currently use two key strategies to address women's care commitments and participation in the paid labour market. First, recent New Labour and Coalition governments have promoted flexible work as a means of managing unpaid care commitments alongside paid employment. Yet flexibility often produces precarious work conditions and does very little to resolve underlying gender inequalities in the quality, remuneration, and longevity of women's paid work. Second, women and other carers have been provided with employment equality rights, for example to request flexible work, with the aim of changing working environments to accommodate a wider range of working patterns. Yet, these rights consistently benefit women in relatively permanent, professional jobs and for legal and other reasons, exclude the workers who need them most: precarious workers, whose status within the workplace is often low and whose ability to negotiate work around care is compromised. This is even more of a problem for those entering the labour market as a result of conditionality requirements in new welfare legislation. I am working on a three-year, ESRC-funded project, which combines doctrinal analysis of UK labour and equality law with empirical socio-legal research on the experiences of female precarious workers in managing work and care. In this paper, I outline preliminary findings from the research, focusing in particular on legal gaps in work-life balance provision, with the hope of analysing those gaps in context once empirical research is complete. My aim overall is to asess how work-life balance measures operate (or not) for those who need them the most.
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