Grandparents are often the unsung heroes of the family, spending hours helping with childcare whilst parents go to work. Or at least they did until lockdown, social distancing and shielding became to the new way of life for families across the UK.
Now, as the government starts to ease the nation back to work, and with only some talk of allowing grandparents to meet up with their grandchildren, it seems we are quite a long way from grandparents being allowed to resume their roles as childcare providers for working parents.
Worth their weight in gold
SunLife polled 2,000 grandparents at the end of 2019 and found that they spend an average of eight hours a week looking after their grandchildren, according to the research. It also found that 85 per cent of grandparents offer some sort of support, with almost half (45 per cent) babysitting for their grandchildren and more than a third (34 per cent) looking after their grandkids over the summer holidays.
The research also found that more than 29 per cent of grandparents are relied upon to look after grandchildren when they are sick, while one in six (16 per cent) grandparents provide a taxi service, taking their grandkids to after school clubs, activities and hobbies.
There are around 14 million grandparents in the UK, more than 5 million of whom provide regular childcare. Based on the average support of eight hours a week, collectively, grandparents are saving their families £22.5bn in childcare costs.
Getting back to work
With more businesses looking to reopen over the coming weeks, Citizens Advice has set out what parents and guardians can do if they’re struggling to juggle childcare and work during the coronavirus pandemic.
The charity has launched a new webpage – Coronavirus – if you need to be off work to care for someone. Its frontline advisers have also directly helped many parents who are struggling with childcare due to the closure of schools and nurseries while family and friends are unable to help.
Tracey Moss, Senior Employment Expert at Citizens Advice, said:
“The thought of returning to work after being furloughed, while juggling childcare, can be a daunting prospect. This is particularly the case for parents who would usually rely on family and friends for support, but can’t at the moment due to social distancing guidance.
“Parents and guardians who are struggling have a number of options. Anyone who is unsure of what to do can visit the Citizens Advice website for more information, and can speak to an adviser online or on the phone for more help.”
There are a number of potential options when it comes to childcare:
Ask to be furloughed. The government has said that if you’re unable to work due to childcare responsibilities, your employer can furlough you using the Job Retention Scheme. If you’re furloughed, you’ll be paid 80% of your normal pay up to a maximum of £2,500 a month. The chancellor recently said there would be no changes to the system, until the end of July. From August, the scheme will continue for all sectors and regions, but with greater flexibility to allow firms to bring staff back to work as the lockdown eases and the economy reopens.
Ask your employer about flexible working. If your employer says you have to work, it may be possible for you to work more flexibly and at times that suit you, on different tasks or for fewer hours. Some employers may suggest you take annual leave.
Ask for unpaid leave until you can work again. If you’re unable to be furloughed or work flexibly, you could ask for unpaid leave with no fixed end date. This is called ‘indefinite unpaid leave’ and you should ask for it in writing so that you have a record.
If your employer says no to the options above, the law says they must consider letting you have some unpaid leave, but only for a limited period of time. This could be parental leave or, alternatively, you can ask for time off for a dependent.
For more information, visit the Citizens Advice Bureau website here.