Unsocial Work Hours ‘Damage 9 in 10 Families’

{mosimage} Children are missing out on crucial time reading, playing and eating with their parents, according to a study published today that reveals nine out of 10 families suffer from unsocial working hours. Eight out of 10 working fathers and more than half of all working mothers are forced to work outside the hours of 8am-7pm, Monday to Friday, says a report from the National Centre for Social Research.

Family life is being irrevocably damaged because few parents ever make up the time lost, the study of 11,000 people found. Mothers working unsocial hours are losing eight hours a week with their children, while a third of working fathers are losing more than 15.

Only 17 per cent of families had a parent working the “normal” nine-to-five week.

“We must take collective responsibility [because] we are depriving children of time with their parents,” said Michael Clark, the chief executive of the Relationships Foundation, a partner on the study.

“Parents of school-age children should be guaranteed one weekend day off a week.”

The study, entitled Working atypical hours: what happens to family life?, claims to offer the first detailed glimpse of how unsocial hours affect families in Britain.

It found that in nine out of 10 families in which both parents work, at least one parent was forced to work late into the evening and at weekends.

For children aged eight to 10, this meant a reduction in the amount of time spent practising reading and playing games, the report said, while children from 11 to 13 spent “significantly” more time on their own. However, 14- to 18-year-olds with parents working unsocial hours spent time socialising with friends rather than doing homework.

Children of all ages ate less regularly with their parents, particularly where the mother worked unsocial hours.

Three out of four families have a parent who works weekends, but the large majority of mothers were dissatisfied with the situation, with 78 per cent unhappy about working Sundays.

“We know that family time together and activities such as eating, reading and playing together are fundamental for a child’s healthy development,” said a summary of the report by the Relationships Foundation.

“This makes it highly likely that unsocial work as it stands. . . could have a significant detrimental effect on children. Children are clearly suffering.

“Working patterns of parents could have a long-term effect on the sustainability of our society.”

Leading charities backed the report and called for wider debate into the effect of unsocial working hours on children’s development.

Sarah Jackson, the chief executive of the charity Working Families, said the long working hours culture was in danger of stunting children’s creative growth. “The unsocial hours people are working is having a definite impact on family life,” she said.

“The pendulum of importance and values seems to have swung away from families and towards work, which means children’s development suffers.

“Perhaps we are in danger of raising a generation of workers who are not as creative as employers want.”

The children’s charity NCH said better structures for coping with a 24-hour economy needed to be created.

Clare Tickell, the charity’s chief executive, said: “We need serious thought about how we can meet the very strong responsibilities we have towards bringing up children in the 24-hour economy, because it isn’t going to change.”

The new research follows a warning from more than 100 academics and experts last week that childhood is being poisoned by the insidious influence of junk food, marketing, over-competitive schooling and electronic entertainment.

Their intervention prompted The Daily Telegraph to launch its Hold on to Childhood campaign.

The Children’s Society is today launching The Good Childhood Inquiry into the state of modern childhood, and released research which said children value family and friendship more than money and material goods.

A spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said it was providing a series of measures to help parents, including extending maternity pay to 39 weeks; extending the right to request flexible working hours for carers of adults from April next year; and offering new rights to paternity leave.