Experts urge Government to think again on parenting leave reforms

15 November 2012

The UK’s leading experts on parenting leave have urged the Government to think again over its plans to reform parenting leave. Academics including Emeritus Professor Peter Moss from the Thomas Coram Research Unit at the Institute of Education, University of London and Professor Margaret O’Brien Co-director of  the Centre for Research on the Child and Family at the University of East Anglia, joined the Fatherhood Institute and others to express disappointment at the Government’s response to the Modern Workplaces consultation – particularly:

  • the decision to extend the existing system of transferable maternity leave, rather than introduce a system of flexible parental leave and pay in which mothers and fathers each have their own eligibility, and
  • the decision not to introduce a period of reserved parental leave for fathers.
The experts’ objections were published as a letter to The Guardian on 14 November.

The Government’s plans are as follows:

Flexibility in maternity leave

The 52 weeks of maternity leave will remain in place as the default position for all employed women. Women who are currently eligible to receive statutory maternity pay (SMP) or maternity allowance will continue to be able to do so for 39 weeks, as they do currently. Women with partners where they both meet the qualifying conditions for the flexible parental system will be able to end the mother’s maternity leave and pay, or commit to ending it at a future date, and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as flexible parental leave and pay. The length of flexible parental leave will not exceed the balance of untaken maternity leave, and the amount of statutory flexible parental pay will not exceed the balance of untaken statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance available at the point at which the woman returned or commits to return to work. Each parent will qualify in their own right for leave and pay.

Parents will need to meet certain earnings or length of service qualifying criteria to use the new flexible parental system. Each parent will need to meet the qualifying criteria for leave and/or pay in their own right. Where possible, these qualifying criteria will mirror the criteria for existing entitlements such as maternity pay and allowance and paternity pay and leave so that families will be able to easily work out their entitlement.

Flexible parental leave can be taken by the biological father or the mother’s partner (husband, civil partner or partner, including same sex) concurrently with the mother on maternity leave, or both parents can be on leave together, so long as the total amount of leave does not exceed what is jointly available to the couple.

Flexible parental leave must be taken in a minimum of one-week blocks. The amount available to each parent will firstly be agreed by the parents, and each will subsequently need to agree their individual pattern of leave with their employer. In the event that the pattern cannot be agreed, the leave defaults to a single block to commence on a date specified by the employee.

We propose to introduce flexible parental leave and statutory flexible parental pay in 2015. We will also consider making arrangements for working parents who do not meet the qualifying requirements to receive statutory payments. Such a provision will not be introduced before 2018 to allow time for development and to ensure it interacts appropriately with the new Universal Credit system.

Paternity leave

We do not propose to dedicate any parental leave exclusively to fathers. However, we will be giving working families maximum flexibility in choosing how to divide leave and pay between them. In practice, this means that parents can choose for fathers to be the primary carer of the child. In addition, we propose to keep paternity leave and pay at the current level of 2 weeks. We recognise that reserved leave for fathers supports culture change towards shared parenting, but in the current climate it is unaffordable for both Government and business to extend paternity leave and pay. We will however take powers to enable us to extend paid paternity leave and make it more flexible so that we can make this extension at a later date when Government and business finances permit.

Time off to attend antenatal appointments

We will be providing the right for fathers, and partners of pregnant women, to take unpaid time off work to attend 2 antenatal appointments with their pregnant partner.

Unpaid parental leave

From March 2013, we will increase unpaid parental leave from 13 to 18 weeks in order to comply with the revised EU Parental Leave Directive. In 2015, we will increase the age limit on parental leave from the current 5 years to 18 years, providing each parent the right to up to 18 week’s unpaid parental leave for each child under 18.

Read the Government’s impact assessment here.

Other commentators have questioned whether the Government’s reforms go far enough. See for example these blogs from NatCen Social Research and the Institute for Public Policy Research. Fathers have also spoken in the media about how 2 weeks’ paternity leave for fathers is not enough. Read the Independent’s article A fresh start on parental leave – but is a fortnight enough for fatherhood? 



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