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Working parents: Byers begins nationwide debate


Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, today launched a debate about how working parents can be given more choices in balancing their responsibilities at home and work. Launching the national debate at a meeting with the CBI and Equal Opportunities Commission in London today, Mr Byers said:

"In the last 25 years, there have been huge changes in the world of work and the way people want to work. We can't ignore these changes any longer.

"Many hard-working parents are facing the difficult task of juggling the responsibility of being a good parent with holding down a job. These pressures need to be recognised.

"If we are to remain competitive in this modern economy, it is essential that we have an open debate about how we can help parents balance work and the responsibility of being a parent.

"There is no doubt that parents will welcome policies which will allow them to balance effectively these responsibilities.

"Our aim is to achieve this while at the same time ensuring that such measures are not harmful to business.

"In this context, particular attention will need to be given to the effect of such policies on small business."

A discussion paper - "Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice" - was published by the DTI today. It examines the key issues and includes a 'stock-take' of the current situation, how working patterns have changed, and how the UK compares to other countries. The discussion paper highlights that:

* There are 5.7 million households in Great Britain with at least one dependent child under the age of 12. 1.2 million of these are households with a single mother while lone-fathers make up 140,000.

* The concept of a 'standard' job - with permanent employee status on a full-time, 9-to-5, Monday to Friday basis - is generally less typical in the UK than the rest of Europe.

* The proportion of families with two wage earners has increased from 46% in 1983 to 63% in 1996 while the proportion with a single wage earner has decreased from 42% in 1983 to 27% in 1996.

* Employment rates of mothers in couple families increased from 50% in 1990 to 68% by 1997.

* Employment rates for lone mothers have increased only slightly in the last fifteen years, from 42% in 1984 to 44% by 1997.

* Employment rates for lone fathers are higher than for lone mothers - 64% versus 44% in 1997.

* The proportion of women returning to employment within a short time of childbirth has increased from 45% in 1988 to 67% in 1996.

* The UK has the second highest share of part-timers in employment, just behind the Netherlands. 80% of the UK's part-timers are women.

* The East Midlands has the lowest number of working mums with kids under 12 while the South East has the lowest number of working dads with kids under 12.

* The mid-skilled mother of two contributes about 35% of the couple's joint lifetime earnings as opposed to 42% if she remained childless.

* Fathers with dependent children work longer hours than other men in a similar position, especially when they are the sole wage earner.

Mr Byers also announced that today's meeting was just the first of a series of regional discussions involving Ministers over the next few weeks. This will allow the Government to hear from as many organisations as possible across the UK on this key issue.

He added:

"In today's labour market we cannot afford to waste any talent. We must ensure that everyone is able to make a full contribution to the competitiveness and productivity of the modern economy.

"This review gives us the opportunity to find out what works best for parents, employers and the economy. It is important that we get this right so that both employers and parents benefit from the changes."

A website has also been set up to receive contributions to the debate.

A Consultation Paper will be published later this year based on the findings of the review.


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