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Finding Flexibility: parents of disabled children and paid work

Working Families’ survey of over a thousand families reveals a worrying pattern of unemployment and under-employment, with many parents being forced to decline promotion, accept lower skilled work, reduce hours of work or opt out of the labour market altogether in order to care for their disabled children. Furthermore the prospects of this group being able to return to the labour market are very poor. While finding suitable and affordable childcare is seen by parents as the main barrier to paid work, there are many other obstacles: taking time off to deal with hospital appointments and school emergencies; inflexible access to health, care and education services; the lack of part-time and flexible work options; the complexity of the benefit system and the lack of financial incentives to take on paid work; and the lack of focused services to support those who wish to return to work. Other research highlights the economic and social consequences of unemployment and under-employment with families of disabled children being at greater risk of experiencing poverty, poor housing, social isolation and family break up. Too often statutory services focus only on the needs of disabled children and fail to address the wider family context. Urgent action is required by the government, by service providers and by employers if the barriers to paid work are to be addressed and the families of disabled children are to escape the adverse economic and social consequences of unemployment and under-employment.