Out-of-date school hours push parents towards self-employment

3 July 2018

Posted in Product

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  • The ‘school-runner’ business accounts for one in five startups today as parents struggle to match their work hours to school hours.
  • Average journey to the school gates is 25 minutes, but school-run stress can start 90 minutes beforehand, adding up to more than four high-stress hours in a typical day.
  • Those who squeeze self-employment between the two school runs report mixed results as swapping a client for a boss can be equally exhausting.

The Good Life Report*, a study by AXA Business Insurance into Britain’s boom in self-employment, has identified ‘the school runner’ business as a rising force in the UK economy.

One in five new businesses in the UK are started by parents whose primary motivation is to fit their work hours to school hours. Typically working five to six hours per day, sandwiched between the two school runs, these parents make an average of £750 per month in take-home pay. While this income is relatively low, for most it means eliminating childcare fees.

Scotland has the greatest number of school-runner businesses, AXA estimate they make up a quarter of new Scottish businesses. This finding is linked to the rapid rise in childcare costs in Scotland in recent years – the fastest growing in the UK outside of London without the equivalent salaries with which to pay them.

“The number of families where both parents work has increased by a third in the past 20 years. While family economics change, schools continue to follow a schedule that evolved over a century ago. Even though rights to flexible hours have strengthened in recent years, most jobs advertised today still follow a strict 9-5 model, and schools are not compromising either. Self-employment is one solution to this contradiction at the heart of many families today.”

Gareth Howell, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance

The study found that the school run may not just be a logistical nightmare for parents, but has an impact on their wellbeing too. Door-to-door the average UK parent drives 25 minutes to the school gates, but start to feel stressed about the journey 90 minutes before they leave the house and continues once they return home. These school-run periods of ‘high stress’ add up to almost four hours per working day, or almost 24 hours per week.

“It is such a battle to get everyone ready and delivered to school before I give my first lesson at 9.30am.”

Music teacher and mum of four children at primary and secondary schools.

But does self-employment lessen the pressure on parents? Six in ten of those who had made the switch said they felt it had helped improve their mental wellbeing. Three in ten believed the nature of the stress had just changed rather than reduced, while just one in ten ‘school-runners’ said self-employment had led to a deterioration in their mental health.

Getting more time to enjoy with children was a common expectation of self-employment among parents, but few felt they had achieved it. Just over a third of ‘school runner’ business owners said they had more time for their kids after starting their business due to their incredibly rushed days.

A common health benefit, noted by almost half of school-runners, was that their days involved more physical activity and less desk-time. School-runner entrepreneurs spend an average of 30 per cent of their day punctuated by physical exertion as they combine household, parenting and work. For comparison, a full-time office worker typically spends just 15 per cent of a working day doing physical activity.

Perhaps as a result, school-runners report BMIs lower than the UK average (just 25 per cent had BMIs in the overweight category compared to a 62 per cent of the general population). A downside for many was highly impoverished diets: four in ten ‘school-runners’ say they skip both breakfast and lunch on a regular basis in the rush to complete their work before 3pm.

The most common occupations for school-runner businesses are: accountants, business consultants, caterers, copywriters, private tutors, textile designers and makers, as well as photographers, graphic designers, as well as those in the film and digital media industries.

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*AXA Business Insurance, quarterly small business surveys (sample size 500 businesses) conducted throughout 2016, 2017 and 2018, combined with case study health diaries.