Nine in 10 working parents would support extending sick leave, allowing them to better manage occasions when their children are sick.

According to new research by Mumsnet, parents in paid work are routinely being forced to use their annual leave or take unpaid leave when their children are unwell.

Over four in five (88 per cent) respondents reported having taken time off work to look after their primary school aged child.

Of these, two-fifths (39 per cent) were forced to use their annual leave while close to three in 10 (29 per cent) had taken paid leave.

The same number (29 per cent) were forced to take unpaid leave, demonstrating the financial burden sick leave may incur for working parents.

Current legislation rules that employees are permitted to take time off to look after a dependant, including children.

However, though employers may choose to pay staff in this situation, there is no obligation for them to do so.

In more drastic instances, one in 10 (10 per cent) had taken reduced hours or dropped work to accommodate caring for a sick child. This rose to one in eight (12 per cent) for single mothers.

This problem also had a disproportionate impact on working parents from a lower socio-economic background.

Over half of C2DE parents (52 per cent), denoting parents from a skilled working class, working class or non-working background, were found to be taking unpaid leave to look after their children.

This group was twice as likely to take unpaid leave compared to people from a middle or upper class background (ABC1 parents), of which only a quarter were forced to do so (26 per cent).

Overall, the vast majority of working parents surveyed were in favour of extending statutory sick leave, allowing them to look after their sick child without losing pay or holiday time.

Justine Roberts, founder and CEO of Mumsnet, said:

Most economically developed countries have a system of paid leave to provide short-term care to a sick child at home. Parents in paid work are losing desperately needed pay and holiday leave, and in the worst cases leaving work altogether to care for their sick children.

Anecdotally we see on our forums that many parents have little choice but to send children into school sick, which obviously has repercussions for other pupils and school staff.

The impact on workplaces of having parents who are stressed about arranging childcare and torn about their ill child shouldn’t be underestimated. We need provisions in law that give parents a little bit of breathing space to care for their children.

Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP and chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, added that it is important to mitigate the inequalities that the pandemic has brought about:

We all knew pre pandemic the greater share of childcare responsibilities was on women, but the results of this survey are really stark.

Women are carrying the economy by having to take so much leave, much of it unpaid, when children are sick or off school for other reasons.

There are good fiscal reasons to support women forced to take time off in this way but also good societal reasons. It’s high time we recognised and valued this sort of invisible but vital contribution.

*Mumsnet surveyed 1,124 users with at least one child in primary school, between 24 September and 29 September 2021, to obtain these results.





Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.