From April 2015, new parents will be able to share up to a year’s leave from the birth of their child. Here's what you need to know.
Government plans designed to make it easier for mothers to go out to work are due to be unveiled.
Plans to allow nursery staff and childminders to look after more toddlers are likely to be dropped after Nick Clegg raised concerns today.
The head of the campaign group Maternity Action has called the government's reforms to parental leave a "useful but very modest step in the right direction":
– Rosalind Bragg, Director, Maternity Action
The ‘right to return’ arrangements are complex, unfair and will confuse both parents and their employers.
It is not right that a woman who takes a week of shared parental leave to settle her daughter into childcare can find that her job has altered during her absence ...
If the Government wants parents to make use of the new flexible leave, they must introduce fair and simple arrangements which protect parents’ jobs when they are at home caring for their new baby.
Alexander Ehmann, of the Institute of Directors, has said that reforms to parental leave "increase the burdens on the employer".
As an example, he said the fact that parents can change their preferences twice means that, in theory, they could take three separate blocks of leave instead of a single continuous one.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the changes were "all in favour of parents".
The general secretary of the TUC union, Frances O'Grady, has welcomed the reforms to parental leave but said they did not go far enough:
– frances o'grady, general secretary, tuc
The Government's own estimates suggest that just one in 20 dads would be able to afford to take shared parental leave if it was paid at the current statutory rate of just £137 a week.
By failing to give parents the right to return to the same job after six months, the Government has also missed an opportunity to prevent a constant source of pregnancy discrimination, where mums returning to work find that their job has changed.
Here are some of the key reforms to parental leave that are being unveiled today:
- Beyond the first fortnight, parents will be able to share the remaining 50 weeks of what was traditionally maternity leave.
- Employers will be able to insist leave is taken in a continuous block, and limit the number of changes
- Anyone who takes up to six months is must be offered the same role again
- Fathers can take two days of unpaid leave to attend ante-natal appointments
- 18 weeks of unpaid leave per child available to parents of under-fives will be extended to children up to the age of 18
- Rights to seek flexible working patterns will be expanded to grandparents and other carers.
The changes will apply from April 2015.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said the proposed changes to parental leave will allow parents to decide for themselves how to divide up any time away from work to care for their baby.
"I don't think it's for government ... to tell mums and dads what arrangements they agree," he said.
But he was less clear on whether he personally would ever make use of the option of more paternity leave:
Changes to the leave rights of parents with newly-born children have been described as "burdens on struggling employers" by the Institute of Directors.
– Alexander Ehmann, IoD deputy director of policy
The proposed system is considerably more complex and unwieldy than the current laws and employers will - once again - have to absorb the cost of adapting and implementing this new system.
– John Wastnage, BCC employment adviser
This response appears to offer pragmatic solutions, such as restricting the number of requests or changes to leave to a maximum of three, as this will limit potential disruption for smaller firms.
New rights to share parental leave between mother and father will help stop women feeling they have to choose between a career and a baby, the Deputy Prime Minister has said.
Mr Clegg has dismissed the present system as Edwardian, saying: "Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby.
"We need to challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home. Many fathers want that option too."
Parents will be able to share their year of leave after having a baby from 2015.
After the first fortnight for a new mother's recovery, parents will be able to share the remaining 50 weeks between them as they choose.
The Government hopes the shake-up will cater for a growing desire by men to play a more hands-on role in a baby's first months.
Anyone taking total leave of six months or less would be legally entitled to return to the same job - while a similar role would be guaranteed for those away longer.
But bosses will have to approve any proposed pattern of time off, retaining the right to insist it be confined to a continuous block, with no more than two subsequent changes.
One of the biggest policy announcements in the White Paper is an expansion of free childcare:
- Every three- and four-year-old could benefit from 1,140 hours of free childcare - equivalent to 30 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year
- This would require a "substantial increase in the workforce" creating about 35,000 jobs
- Policy would be "affordable and sustainable" but there is little detail on the cost