The current situation bolts too many families into financial hardship, with high childcare costs meaning that for them working doesn't pay.
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.
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
Nicola Sturgeon says that expanding free childcare to the equivalent of 30 hours per week would help parents return to work, but would not say how much it would cost an independent government.
#indyplan on priorities for an independent Scotland: Increasing female and parental involvement in the workforce through expanding childcare
Labour leader Ed Miliband has criticised the Government over the rising cost of childcare, claiming there is a "childcare crunch" affecting families.
Here are a selection of ITV News viewers' opinions on the subject:
– Jenny Collins
When Labour were in power, my kids were little. Childcare costs were higher than any wage I could have earned so I couldn't have afforded to work even if I wanted to, and that was under Labour!
– Lucy Smith
[It's] too expensive, I can't return to my job when my maternity is up because the cost for both my boys (both under three) is more than my part time wage! Ridiculous.
– Julie Dodds
I am a childminder and I would love to know where the 30% increase in costs figure came from, because no childminder that I know has put their fees up that much if at all since the election!
Big banks should pay for extended free childcare to help ease cost of living pressures on families, Ed Miliband has told Daybreak.
The Labour leader said he wants to extend the free childcare for three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week, which he claims would be the equivalent of about £1,500 a year saving for families who "are really struggling to cope.
"The banks are actually making very big profits and I think they can afford a bit more to help families," he said.
"It's one of those things that is going to be good for the country, because not every parent is going to want to work... but seven out of 10 mums are saying 'I want to go back to work but I can't because of the cost of childcare'".
Ed Miliband maintained there were "hundreds" of Sure Start centres which had been forced to close due to Government cuts, despite the Department of Education's claim only 45 had closed.
The Labour leader was adamant "our figures are correct" and that there were now 576 fewer Sure Start centres since the last General Election.
He went on to continue his party's pledge to support primary school children as well as under-fives with adequate childcare if Labour win the next election.