Baroness Tyler writes… A balanced working life consultation

Times are tough for people on low to middle incomes. As a group they have seen their quality of life remain stagnate even during times of sustained economic growth. The financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing recession has made getting by much more difficult for large numbers of people who are unable to make ends meet and with no savings to fall back on when the money runs out.

Which is why I was delighted when I was asked to chair the Lib Dem Working group on a Balanced Working Life. Our remit is to develop policy which directly helps those people with caring responsibilities who are struggling to get by on a daily basis. We are asked to develop policies which will allow them to feel they have choices to get the right balance in their lives. We are very conscious that some families are finding themselves caring for both children/grandchildren and elderly relatives at the same time as working – often called the “squeezed generation”.

As you have no doubt noticed – this is a pretty wide remit, which is why we want to give you a chance to tell us what you think.

We are structuring our work into 5 main themes as below, and would welcome your thoughts on any of the following:

  • Household budgets
    How can we help people to make their money go further – we are particularly conscious of the rising costs of food, fuel, transport and housing. What is the role of government and others? How can money advice websites and consumer groups help?
  • Childcare
    How can we ensure that childcare is available, affordable, of proper quality and sufficiently flexible to fit around people’s jobs and lives? What is the role of employers here including small and medium sized businesses? Are there lessons to be learnt from abroad?
  • Work life balance and workplaces that are fair for all
    We want to see flexible working practices available to all, particularly those on low income. At the moment the take up of flexible working is concentrated on people with higher levels of income and more qualified jobs. How can we make it more widespread during a time of increasing job insecurity? How can we balance employment rights in this area with employer needs and encourage more employers to offer realistic flexible working. How does this link in with wider wellbeing in the workplace so that employees feel engaged, valued and happy in their work.
  • Family Friendly Public Services
    People on low to middle incomes often rely on various public services but these services are often not geared around their needs or the hours when people want to access them. What can we do to improve the accessibility of services for people who are already juggling working and caring responsibilities, particularly people who have no flexibility in their working hours? What role does public transport have to play here?
  • Empowering People to lead more fulfilling lives
    Whilst for many people working and caring for others fills up much of their available time, we want everyone to feel that they have access to wider activities such as leisure activities, culture, sport, volunteering and wider community life. How can we ensure these choices and opportunities are available to people on low to middle income?

I think this is classic Lib Dem territory that touches directly the reality of many people’s daily lives. We need to come up with a distinctive Liberal Democrat approach which recognises how tough life is for so many of our fellow citizens and does something about it. All ideas welcome – add yours in the comments thread below.

* Claire Tyler, Baroness Tyler of Enfield, has been in the House of Lords since 2011, taking an active role in the areas of health and social care, welfare reform, social mobility, well-being, children and family policy, machinery of government and the voluntary sector. She is the Liberal Democrat member of the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, and co-chair of the APPG on Social Mobility

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  • Richard Dean 24th Oct '12 - 1:47pm

    What a very useful consultation, and such a difficult one too! Safety in neighborhoods seems important to me, for instance the fear of mugging can keep people locked in their homes. And 20mph zones, or even car-free zones? Would smaller buses, say 8-person busses, running more frequently than the larger ones, not necessarily on fixed timetables, possibly so that people can phone up to get one to come, be a way of providing more freedom of movement at low cost?

  • Commuting times are consistently overlooked when considering work-life balances, yet many people readily accept daily travel times of one or two hours (and sometimes more) – each way!

    This can add up to 50% to time spent away from home, creating stress by way of traffic problems or worries concerning catching trains or making bus connections and dramatically affecting energy levels for participating in family or other non-work-related activities, in addition to reducing time availability – please think of the parent and child who have no contact at all during the week because the home is so far from their workplace.

    On top of this travel-to-work times are often higher for those in lower income brackets as a result of inequality in the housing and jobs markets, which further restricts living choices.

    A good starting point would be to publish various measures regarding commuting times to understand how this can impact on work-life balance.

  • Get rid of workaholic obsessives from running everything. They set the pattern that everyone else is forced to follow.

  • Ruth Bright 25th Oct '12 - 9:08am

    How I agree with Oranjepan. I recently started a job with a three hour round trip commute. Judging from the stressed pallor I spy in my fellow commuters (standing for half the train journey) – commuting year upon year is a killer!

    Claire – surely the party should lead by example? What family friendly working practices (other than a creche at conference) do we implement in the Lib Dems?

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