FATHERS who are working in the community or undertaking “work placements” in return for their benefits will not be able to take advantage of new shared parental leave laws due to come into force this week, it has emerged.
Men who are working as part of the government’s Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) or Community Work Placement (CWP) programmes and claim Jobseeker’s Allowance will not be allowed to use a parental leave entitlement which will apply to working fathers.
The MWA programme applies to people who have been out of work for six months or more and lasts just four weeks, while the CWP scheme, which has attracted criticism from charities, is for 30 hours each week for up to 26 weeks and applies to people who have been out of work for two years.
Under both schemes, participants continue to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, but anyone who refuses to take part or who fails to turn up will lose their benefits.
Under the new parental leave regulations, which are due to come into force tomorrow, working parents will be allowed to choose whether they want to share the mother’s maternity leave.
Mothers will still have to take at least two weeks of maternity leave immediately after the birth of their child, but after that, couples have the opportunity to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay.
The exemption of fathers who are taking part in work placements was uncovered by Scots MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford, who asked for clarification of the situation in Westminster.
Whiteford said: “The sanctioning of a new parent’s benefits who is in a workfare programme threatens to be hugely detrimental to vulnerable families and is grossly unfair. I will be pursuing the Department of Work and Pensions on this matter and will be seeking clarification of the moral and legal grounds on which it was implemented.”
Around 60-70,000 people were last year said to be likely to take part in the MWA scheme over the coming 12 months.
The new rules, which were announced last year and will apply to any baby born after 5 April next year, will see parents able to take parental leave entitlement in weekly blocks. It can be stopped and started, so periods of work can be interspersed with periods of leave for childcare. The pattern of leave must be agreed between employer and employee, with eight weeks’ notice.
SNP MSP Christian Allard – a single father – said: “These unfair rules effectively leave new fathers who are working for their benefits without any rights to see their baby and partner whatsoever.” In response to Whiteford’s parliamentary question, employment minister Esther McVey said: “The Department for Work and Pensions delivers a number of programmes which provide work experience placements, such as Mandatory Work Activity, the Work Programme or Help to Work Community Work Placements. All of the department’s employment programmes are supportive initiatives, designed to help unemployed claimants gain skills and help them into work.
“Paternity leave is an entitlement that is available to people who are in paid employment. Therefore, it is not possible to claim paternity leave if you are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and are on a Mandatory Work Activity or Community Work Placement.”