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It's About Time - Chapter 9

It's About Time

Chapter 9: Other Issues

9.1 Introduction
9.2 Transport and access to paid work and services
9.3 Better urban planning
9.4 Supporting community life and wellbeing
9.5 Conclusion

9.1 Introduction

The breadth of issues impacting on paid work and family/care balance meant that some concerns emerged in submissions and consultations that are beyond the scope of this report, in terms of making specific recommendations for reform. Nevertheless, they are important to include as part of the full picture of how working Australians manage their paid and unpaid commitments and to identify as issues for future work. In particular, these concerns include issues around infrastructure and the built environment.

Decisions about how to combine paid work and family and carer responsibilities are not only informed by pressures and supports within areas such as the workplace, public policies and formal and informal care arrangements. The planning and design of our cities and transport systems can also directly affect both the quality and quantity of time available for family and caring responsibilities, including engaging with friends, neighbours and community activities. Although the design of our built environment cannot create community, it can ensure that people have the places and the time to interact with their families and communities.

Many of the time pressures identified by men and women relate to spatial aspects of their lives as well the amount of paid work and care that they undertake. Long commuting times were consistently raised with HREOC as factors affecting the ability to balance paid work and family life. For people in regional and remote areas, access to transport can be difficult in the absence of public transport or access to a car. For people with disability, difficulties in combining paid work and care can be compounded by lack of access to and the high cost of transport. Elder care responsibilities can be harder to meet for adult children who have established their careers and their families a long way from their ageing parents.1 The following sections explore these issues and identify areas of planning and infrastructure that could be better developed to meet the needs of people combining paid work and care.

9.2 Transport and access to paid work and services

Commuting times have a big impact on the ability of families to balance their paid work and family/carer responsibilities. A recent Australian study has illustrated the negative effects of long hours of commuting on family and community life, noting that:

Each week over ten per cent of parents in paid employment spend more time commuting than they do with their children, travelling for between ten and 15 hours weekly to and from work but spending less time than this supervising, caring for and transporting their children.2

Long commuting times are associated with less time with children, long working hours, increased time pressure and limited time available to contribute to family and community life.3 Men spend more time travelling to and from work than women, a fact that derives from gender segregation in paid work.4

HREOC's consultations and focus groups with parents confirmed these findings.5 They also showed that long commuting times create stress for families by eating into family time and playing havoc with schedules for managing paid work and care. For many families, this means a complicated and sometimes precarious (such as in the event of illness) daily set of arrangements for sharing paid work and care. One example given to HREOC illustrates the difference within one family between commuting and working locally.

My day starts at 7, my wife and I give the kids a bath the night before, so we watch a bit of TV before school. I do the breakfast and take them to school because I work locally. My wife works in the city so she needs to leave early. My wife does the ironing of the school uniform before she leaves. By about 8.45 I take them to school and my father in law who lives next to us, he works part-time and so picks them up after school on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays the after school care bus picks them up and they are there until 6. I pick them up from there around 5.30. I give them a bath, cook dinner and put them to bed (sometimes before my wife gets home).6

For people in outer metropolitan and regional areas the long periods of commuting were both a response to a lack of local job opportunities and a result of urban sprawl.7

For fathers, long commuting times add to the pressure of long working hours and create a barrier to involvement in family life. A focus group participant who works with fathers in Western Sydney noted that: "The traveling issue always comes up with our fathers".8 Another focus group participant added:

All the fathers want to be more involved with the kids; they are trying to become more involved. They try and cut back hours if they can. I don't think anyone wants to cut hours or shifts but they want to be more involved with the kids when they are at home. Hours of transport that people have to do every day and pressure from employers to do more hours are the barriers [to greater involvement in children's lives], and that is increasing.9

People who commute long distances to undertake paid work, such as "fly-in, fly-out" (FIFO) workers in the mining industry, face unique challenges in balancing paid work and family/care responsibilities. HREOC has found that many of these employees experience considerable strain in their family relationships as a result of their work schedules in areas that are a long way from where their families reside.10 As one consultation participant remarked:

I've moved to Perth, and fly-in fly-out has trashed my whole relationship. It trashed our relationship in that when he was away I made my own life, you do your own things, and then when he had his 4 days off or whatever and was home it just didn't work. FIFO means one parent is away for 2 weeks and the other parent has to do the whole caring role and then the partner comes back and he's like the Disney dad.11

For particular groups of parents and other caregivers, participation in the labour market is contingent on access to transport. Access to transport is a major issue for sole parents and people with disability.12 Inadequate or expensive transport was identified in submissions to HREOC as a barrier to balancing paid work and family/carer responsibilities for women with disability, including the ability to undertake any paid work.13 As a submission to HREOC's National Inquiry into Employment and Disability noted:

For many women with disabilities, access to transport may mean the difference between paid work and staying at home. Many women with disabilities need assistance to use public transport or cannot use it at all. Taxis or private cars are therefore the only alternative. These are very expensive forms of transport ... The high costs of transport also erode the economic gains to be made through having a job.14

Inaccessible transport was one of a number of barriers faced by women with disability that were mentioned to HREOC. Other barriers included an inaccessible built environment, including inaccessible employment and child care services.15

Limited access to transport can also affect the capacity of sole parents to enter into and continue paid work, according to research highlighted in a submission from the National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children.

Getting children to child care or school on public transport and then getting to workplaces, often required mothers to rouse children at dawn. Women living in non-metropolitan areas were at an even greater disadvantage due to limited services.16

9.3 Better urban planning

The planning and design of much of our urban space is a legacy of an earlier industrial economy based around commuting to highly paid nine-to-five jobs, that is, jobs traditionally undertaken by male breadwinners.17 Widely separated land use does not support forms of employment that differ from this norm, such as part time or casual work and employment in the services sector. As noted in Chapter 4, these forms of work have increased in recent decades and are prevalent among women with caring responsibilities. As a consequence, the built environment is often hostile to workers with caring responsibilities due to long distances between home and paid work and long distances between the home, paid work and care facilities that enable people to combine paid work and caring. A spreading of suburbs has also been accompanied by increasing car usage and a shift away from public transport.18

A submission from Women's Electoral Lobby Australia tracks some of the social changes that reflect and reinforce this environment and the effect they have on the capacity of people to manage paid work and care.

The corner shop has gone and trips to supermarkets require cars. Shopping malls replace local high street shopping, walking to neighbourhood facilities is often not possible and public transport still a problem ... Streets are often deserted as more people move directly from houses to cars. Children are not as likely to go to local schools so don't walk there. Even those who do use local facilities are more often driven there. Families are often scattered and not available for personal advice and support. Many women have little experience with children till they have their own as much younger siblings or relationships with siblings' children are not so common.19

The design of our built environment can make it more difficult for people to combine paid work and care. A submission from Bronwen Burfitt detailed research in which she investigated the effect that urban planning can have on the ability of women to combine paid work and family and carer responsibilities.20 Her study found that high housing costs, isolation and long commuting times all affect women's capacity to manage paid work and child care. Individual women participating in her research reported: ... feeling that two hours spent driving to and from work each day compromises ... quality of life ...[and, in relation to a second woman that she] ... had to relocate her work, as she found the rush back home from the city to pick up her children up from childcare was incredibly stressful.

HREOC's focus group and consultation participants drew attention to a lack of local public services such as transport and the need for investment in local infrastructure.22 One consultation participant from a regional area stated:

What role governments can play is to ensure that, especially in places like this, basic infrastructure is in place before the development of housing and ... migration of people into these areas to reduce the isolation of people moving away from their extended families. It's time we put into place this action. Citizens can't do this, we can't place infrastructure on the ground.23

There are a number of government initiatives which contribute to work in this area. For example, in the Australian Government's "Communities for Children" program, a non-government organisation (NGO) works with service providers, families, community organisations, businesses and all levels of government to develop and implement community development strategies including for "child friendly communities". Many of these strategies are focused on consulting with families and children about improving urban planning and working with local government to implement recommendations.

It is often assumed that people who are unable to fit into a hostile built environment must simply adapt to it. Those who succeed are then held up as examples of individual will and effort while the rest are considered weak.24 Although some people with family/carer responsibilities have been able to negotiate within our built environment, better planning of urban space, including provision of local services and public transport would help meet the needs of more people working flexibly to accommodate their care responsibilities. For example, public transport with better off-peak services and vehicles designed to accommodate prams and wheelchairs would assist those who cannot conform to the male breadwinner norm, as well as those who cannot afford private transportation.

9.4 Supporting community life and wellbeing

Design and use of space can have a similar impact to time use and the time pressures reported by parents juggling their paid work and family/carer responsibilities.25 Local community networks of informal support and care rely on friendships with neighbours and local shopkeepers. Although friendships are often established around the workplace, long distances between work and home may mean that these relationships entrench a male breadwinner model and the separation between paid work and family life. Long commuting times and urban sprawl can erode opportunities for the development of local community relationships which can provide social and practical support for people with family and carer responsibilities. For example, as the study by Flood and Barbato notes, people who spend long times commuting have less discretionary time to spend in volunteer work.26 Time to spend in community activities is contingent upon the design of the environments in which people live and work. As noted in the Striking the Balance discussion paper, many public institutions, such as schools, rely on volunteer work to function effectively.27 Voluntary work, including various types of "caring" work within the community, also creates broader social capital from which families and communities benefit.28

HREOC has heard evidence of the positive impact that strong community networks and volunteering have on local communities.

In somewhere like Kal you have more people with a greater sense of community and therefore they are more involved.29

The health and aged care in the home program is very successful here. The volunteers become their families.30

Despite this, the social benefits of strong community networks of support are often undervalued and overlooked. A better balance of paid work and family/carer responsibilities among men and women must include a response to the need for neighbourhood wellbeing, including building local community capacity to care for its members.

9.5 Conclusion

The organisation of the built environment, including the proximity of home to work and proximity to care facilities and access to transport, affects families' ability to manage paid work and care responsibilities. For some groups of people, such as sole parents and people with disability, the built environment can create many barriers to undertaking both paid and unpaid work. To facilitate a more integrated paid work/care environment, better design and planning is needed to ensure as a minimum that transport is accessible and that the sites of paid work and care are located within reasonable distance. The organisation of the built environment can also affect local community capacity to support and care for itself and, ideally, town planning should aim to strengthen this capacity rather than weaken it.


Footnotes

[1] Community consultation, NSW Central Coast, 4 August 2005 and Beverly Puls, Submission 12, p 1.

[2] Michael Flood and Claire Barbato Off to Work: Commuting in Australia Discussion paper No 78 The Australia Institute Canberra April 2005, pp viii-ix.

[3] ibid, pp 29-32.

[4] ibid, pp 25-26.

[5] HREOC Focus group 5, February 2005 and Community consultation, NSW Central Coast, 4 August 2005.

[6] HREOC Focus group 5, February 2005.

[7] Community consultation, NSW Central Coast, 4 August 2005 and Premier's Council for Women (SA), Submission 96, p 13.

[8] HREOC Focus group 16, January 2006.

[9] ibid.

[10] Community consultation, Kalgoorlie, 12 September 2005 and Community consultation, Darwin, 22 September 2005. However, while FIFO working presents challenges, some viewed it as a useful way of balancing paid work and family/care responsibilities and a choice that should be supported - see Anne M and Jocasta Sibbel, Submission 157.

[11] Community consultation, Kalgoorlie, 12 September 2005.

[12] National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children, Submission 86, Attachment 1, p 10 and Women with Disabilities Australia, Submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission National Inquiry into Employment and Disability April 2005, p 9. See also discussion throughout Chapter 8.

[13] Disability Council of New South Wales, Submission 76, p 3.

[14] Women with Disabilities Australia, Submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission National Inquiry into Employment and Disability April 2005, p 9.

[15] People with Disability Australia, Submission 104, p 6 and Disability Council of New South Wales, Submission 76, p 3.

[16] National Council of Single Mothers and Their Children, Submission 86, Attachment 1, p 10.

[17] See Derek Kemp "Trends in employment, work and society: Their implications for urban form" (1996) 21 Urban Futures Journal pp 39-45.

[18] ABS 2005 Yearbook Australia Cat No 1301.0 January 2006, pp 619-621.

[19] Women's Electoral Lobby Australia, Submission 115, p 5.

[20] Bronwen Burfitt, Submission 107.

[21] ibid, p 100.

[22] HREOC Focus group 10, August 2005 and Community consultation, NSW Central Coast, 4 August 2005.

[23] Community consultation, NSW Central Coast, 4 August 2005.

[24] Colin Barnes Disabled People in Britain and Discrimination: A case for anti-discrimination Legislation University of Calgary Press Calgary 1991, pp 24-25.

[25] See also discussion of time pressures in Chapter 2.

[26] Michael Flood and Claire Barbato Off to Work: Commuting in Australia Discussion paper No 78 The Australia Institute Canberra April 2005, p 31.

[27] See Striking the Balance discussion paper, p 47.

[28] See discussion of the benefits of care and social capital in the Striking the Balance discussion paper at p 75 and pp 111-112. See also Volunteering Australia, Submission 89.

[29] Community consultation, Kalgoorlie, 12 September 2005.

[30] ibid.

January 29, 2008

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