Supporting carers during COVID-19 by GUCU Carers Group

This memo outlines issues arising for members of staff who are carers, including parents/carers of younger children and/or parents/carers of disabled children of any age, and carers of elderly people and other significant others. Due care needs to be given that College policies and practices do not disproportionately impact on carers, especially women carers because, whilst men can be primary carers, it continues to be the case that caring work falls disproportionately on women.

We offer this collectively written, ‘ground-up’ memo in the spirit of protecting and enhancing the health and wellbeing of both members of staff who are also parents and carers, and of Goldsmiths itself. That is, we see the memo as offering concrete points of action that will enable individuals and the college more widely to flourish. 

Specifically, in relation to parents/carers, since nurseries and schools closed on Monday 23rd of March, children have been looked after and schooled at home. At the same time, full-time work has continued, including the period during which teaching was rapidly moved online. Schools and nurseries in England have, in some cases, opened on June 1st, with only some years returning, and only with minimal hours. Thus, many children remain at home, cared for and educated by their parents or carers. While schools are set to reopen in the autumn, in the event of a second lockdown, or in the likely circumstance that classes will be sent home due to infection, children will have to be homeschooled again. During this time, as with now, we will be managing challenging times at work, including increased administrative and pastoral support responsibilities, moving teaching online as well as the demand that we complete promised research projects, and bid for new ones.

Carers of older people or people disabled or in poor health will need to limit their face to face contact and manage the daily lives of those they are caring for, leaving less time to attend to this increased workload.

Acknowledging what’s been done so far

We recognise the University’s rapid response, instituting flexible working and alternative working practices including: “a temporary restructuring or reduction of your responsibilities or a period of special paid leave to care for dependents due to the Covid-19 outbreak”.
This initial policy reflects the immediate demands of the period of March/April but in reality little provision has been made for working carers. This memo identifies the impacts of COVID on working life, especially for parents/carers, making concrete suggestions for going forward.

Looking forward

We call on Goldsmiths SMT to recognise that the impacts of COVID are wide-ranging, long-lasting and disproportionately distributed along lines of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, and class (often these categories are overlapping), and that the long-term impacts of the pandemic are likely to exacerbate prior inequalities such as gender and BME pay gaps. Within this context we call on Goldsmiths SMT to recognise the considerable challenge of managing work and caring responsibilities and consider implementing a ‘no detriment’ policy over at least the coming academic year that focuses on removing negative impacts on staff as a result of the pandemic, especially staff with caring responsibilities as described here.

Before outlining concrete examples of what a ‘no detriment’ policy would involve  below, here we sketch out some of the challenges faced by staff who are also parents or carers:

  • Working from home means sharing space and resources with other family members. This is a challenge for taking part in online activities, as well as undertaking intellectual work.
  • Our days are necessarily structured by child and other care demands, especially for sole parents and carers and those with younger children. We cannot follow a 9-5 working schedule, with implications for teaching and meetings.
  • The demands of moving teaching online, increased pastoral support for students at all levels, and undertaking administration virtually, mean that little time or energy is available to undertake significant academic research, writing, or grant applications.
  • Our child and other care responsibilities at the moment make it very difficult to maintain any resemblance of a healthy work-life balance, which consequently, over time, impacts on our health and well-being. 
  • Because of all of the above – but especially because the reopening of schools and nurseries is uneven, uncertain and will fluctuate with very little notice – we are not in a position to be able to take on additional work. We are concerned to meet current workloads and about our capacity to deliver on our commitment to uphold students’ high expectations, and to maintain Goldsmiths’ international reputation for research excellence.

Below we outline what such a ‘no detriment’ policy might look like with a list of concrete actions.

Concrete actions

  1. Reduce and not increase, individual workloads. Where possible and especially where there is a compelling case, workloads should be reduced (e.g. single parents/carers, caring for someone with disability, shielding at home, parents and carers whose partners must work outside of the home etc). This is not to suggest that people who are not parents and carers should have increased workloads. We believe that this could be achieved through redistributing the workload of substantive staff among Goldsmiths’ existing pool of highly-skilled GTTs and ALs while being mindful of nationwide anti-casualisation efforts (cf. UCUs anti-casualisation charter) and that GTTs and ALs may also be carers themselves.  
  1. Invest in research as part of the COVID-19 recovery plan. GTTs and ALs enable academic staff to contribute to the financial health of the college by bidding for research funding, publishing and other activities that maintain Goldsmiths’ international reputation. It is imperative that these activities continue during COVID-19, for Goldsmiths’ long term future. We also emphasise the importance of our research for tackling the social impacts of COVID-19. This includes at the very least, ensuring that DRT are granted. See below.  
  1. Designing remote working practices around caring responsibilities. Careful thought around teaching can enable staff to deliver the best teaching, even with limited time and resources. For example, pre-recorded rather than live lectures fit best with the demands of childcare. Other adjustments could include revised turnaround times for assessment, and prioritising those caring for very young children in timetabling. Departmental meetings can be organised in ways that enable parents and carers to attend, but it must also be recognised that attending meetings may not always be possible.
  1. Developing workable teaching and learning strategies. We wish to explore, with appropriate support from college, suitable pedagogical approaches, including the ‘flipped’ class and problem-based learning as strategies for maximising limited contact time with students.
  1. Promotion and progression. We call for college to commit to a strategy for promotion and progression that takes account of individual circumstances during this period and does not penalise candidates for limited outputs during this period.
  1. Develop policies to promote research careers affected by Covid19. We call for college to review possible measures to support the careers of parents and carers post-COVID-19. This might include priority for dedicated research leave (as some Universities already do after a period of maternity or parental leave).
  1. Carry out an Equalities Impact Assessment. We request that the College, in line with its responsibilities as a public body and with its commitment to the Athena SWAN scheme to increase institutional support for carers and parents, carry out an Equalities Impact Assessment on policies and practices related to the non-renewal of AL and GTT contracts; Non-renewal of FTC contracts unless approved by SMT; Academic promotions cancelled for 2020; Pay and progression round cancelled for 2020; cancellation of dedicated research leave in 2020; embargo on staff appointments or replacements.

Benefits to college of developing a carer friendly Covid-19 working policy

Goldsmiths is, by and large, a great place to work, as a parent or carer. The above actions would not only reflect Goldsmiths’ ethic of supporting members of staff with childcare and other caring responsibilities, but also concretely benefit Goldsmiths, particularly at a time of financial strain. Supporting parents and carers during Covid-19 needs to be considered in the context of the college’s Recovery Plan and the current financial situation of the college. Specifically, it is important to recognise (a) that cutting GTTs/AL’s transfers workload onto other staff, many of whom are in the position described in this memo; (b) that one very likely outcome of increased workloads, combined with challenging circumstances at home, will be increased stress, anxiety and other health and wellbeing issues, resulting in staff taking leave from work. With existing cuts already in place and with the threat of losing the valuable work of our GTTs and ALs, there is no ‘slack’ in workload models for additional work to be undertaken by colleagues. Transferring tasks in this way therefore adds to colleagues’ existing workloads and/or cuts down on or eliminates the possibility of working on grants, publications, and events which bring significant financial and reputational benefits to College. It will also – crucially – impact on the teaching and learning experience as students will encounter changes in staff at short notice and possible cancellations or reductions of contact time during what is and will be a period of intense instability and uncertainty for them.

Concrete benefits:

  1. Long-term preservation of vibrant research culture. Goldsmiths’ family friendly working culture empowers staff who are also parents to continue to excel in their professional lives, benefitting the college’s and their department’s research profile through high quality publications, impact and public engagement activities, public events and attracting significant research funding. Mitigating the negative impacts of the pandemic on research-active staff by protecting research time and ensuring college support systems are strong and stable, is essential for Goldsmiths’ recovery, and long-term success. 
  1. Avoiding staff sick leave. As noted above, it is very likely that without concrete actions, staff who are also parents or carers will be forced into situations where abrupt and possibly prolonged periods of leave, including sick leave, will need to be taken. Not only will this impact negatively on the research and teaching excellence of the college, it will also have significant economic impacts on the college, as the long term cost of staff on sick leave, and rolling periods of sick leave, accrue. This is an especially important point in light of the current financial situation.
  1. Athena Swan.  Goldsmiths achieved the Athena Swan Bronze Award in March 2020.The actions listed above reflect the broad commitments Goldsmiths has made to furthering gender equality, and the ambition, specifically addressed in its Action Plan, to ‘increase institutional support for staff who are carers’ (Action Point 22). Committing to the concrete actions outlined in this document would provide an opportunity for Goldsmiths to demonstrate sector-wide leadership by being one of the first UK HEIs to develop and implement an action plan specifically to support parents and carers through the impacts of Covid-19. This would constitute best practice and be a beacon for other UK HEIs to follow, and demonstrate Goldsmiths’ capacity for the leadership and innovation that is required to achieve Athena Swan Gold certification. 
  1. Opportunity for the promotion of Goldsmiths’ values.  This is an opportunity to implement progressive policies that could be held up as good practice in the sector. Implemented with sensitivity and with equality and diversity in mind, they would be a strong endorsement of the ‘radical’ profile college likes to promote and would enhance the college’s reputation in light of recent damaging publicity (on racism and sexual harassment). Indeed, keeping in mind the profile of our current students and with a possible move being indicated by the government to encourage increased numbers of adult learners into universities, this would also be an opportunity to promote Goldsmiths’ values in the recruitment and retention of potential students.

By making support for those in caring roles the default, the College would be taking a proactive position that enables staff with families to continue to carry out their roles well. It would also enable departments and College to have confidence that planned workloads can be delivered with minimum, or no more than typical disruptions (e.g. sick leave). Finally, a family friendly policy, such as the one outlined, would take away the considerable stress, as well as administrative and emotional labour, that comes with individuals having to ask to be supported. Requesting support is not something everyone feels able to do, and we know that the ability to ask for support is often mediated by differences and inequalities, including those concerning gender, BME, sexuality, disability, and class.


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