Plan for parents to have equal share of baby care

NEW laws offering both ­parents more flexibility in taking ­parental leave will “shatter” the “old-fashioned assumption” women should stay home to look after their children, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.
Jo Swinson: Hopes move will shatter perceptions. Picture: PAJo Swinson: Hopes move will shatter perceptions. Picture: PA
Jo Swinson: Hopes move will shatter perceptions. Picture: PA

Mothers and fathers will be able to share the full year’s parental leave – excepting the first two weeks after a baby’s birth, which will remain exclusively a time for mothers to recuperate.

They will also be allowed to switch back and forth during the year – and even take some of the leave simultaneously.

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For the past two years, both parents have been able to share some of the 52 weeks of existing leave, although the father is only able to take up to six months off in a single block, beginning after the baby is 20 weeks old.

“Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby,” said Mr Clegg. “They should be supported by their employers, rather than being made to feel less employable or under pressure to take unchallenging jobs.

“We want a fairer society that gives parents the flexibility to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth.”

He added: “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.

“That is why from April 2015 we’re introducing shared parental leave to allow couples to make that decision jointly, ensuring all career options remain open to women after ­pregnancy.”

Business minister Jo Swinson said: “We want to shatter the perception that it is mainly a woman’s role to stay at home and look after the child and a man’s role to be at work.”

The reforms will also extend parents’ right to request flexible working to all employees who have worked for a company for more than 26 weeks in a bid to reflect the increased role of grandparents and other carers.

However, the Institute of Directors branded the plan a “nightmare” that would “heap yet more burdens on struggling employers”.

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Deputy director of policy Alexander Ehmann said: “The proposed system is considerably more complex and unwieldy than the current laws and employers will – once again – have to absorb the cost.”

However, the new law grants bosses the power to accept or reject a proposal for time off and they will retain the right to insist it be confined to a continuous block, with no more than two subsequent changes.