In Question: Flexible working

On 27 March, Lucy Powell MP asked 21 departments to explain: what proportion of civil servants, of each sex and grade, work part-time.


By Colin Marrs

18 Aug 2014

It is not a surprise that more women than men work part-time – but some may find the scale of the disparity surprising. Across the civil service, the proportion of female staff working reduced hours is around 20%, while the equivalent for males is about 2.5%. Outliers include the Home Office, within which 31% of women work part-time, and the Wales Office – admittedly a small sample size – within which only 4% of women do so. 

Powell tells CSW that the figures chime with business department figures which show that in the UK economy, fathers are nearly twice as likely as mothers to have requests for flexible working turned down by their employers. “One of the things I am trying to highlight is that when it comes to flexible working requests, the bigger barriers are faced by men and dads – not women,” she comments.

The figures also show variations between departments in the proportion of staff from senior ranks working part-time. In the Ministry of Justice, only 4% of SCS grades work part-time, compared to 14% of SEOs – the grade with the highest proportion of part-timers. In the Home Office, the SCS figure is 2.2%, whilst 18% of EOs work part-time. However, the picture isn’t universal, with 13.6% of SCS staff working part-time in the Treasury – the highest proportion of any grade in the department.

The Treasury is unusual here, though. “In many cases, the further up the tree you go, the less likely you are to be working flexibly,” comments Powell. “Just because you are not there full-time does not mean you contribute or impact less. In fact, there is quite a lot of evidence to show the opposite.”

Powell urges departments to lead the way on opening up flexible working opportunities for men. “If Whitehall cannot be an exemplar and show how the challenges of allowing flexible working can be overcome, then dads across the country will continue to get a raw deal,” she says. “It is not only unfair on them, but reinforces the idea that women should be the primary carer.”

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