Last week the government announced that parents will be able to share up to a year’s parenting leave. Historically, provided the statutory criteria were met, the mother could take up to 52 weeks maternity leave whereas the father was allowed just two weeks paternity leave. From April 2011 the rules changed slightly, allowing the father to take up to six months of the original 52 weeks leave once the baby is 20 weeks old, but this can only be taken in a single block.
The BBC reports that unions have welcomed the plans, but that the Federation of Small Businesses has raised concerns about the burden this will place on small firms.
The new proposals, to take effect from 2015, are to enable mothers to return to work two weeks after giving birth if they wish, and then share the rest of their maternity leave with the baby’s father. The idea is to create a fully flexible system of parental leave, and to assist women in returning to work. The 50 remaining weeks can be taken as the couple choose, either together or in turn. The total leave available will still be capped at 52 weeks, with 9 months statutory pay available.
The Law Society welcomed the proposal, but cautioned that it will not go as far as the government hope. The president, Lucy Scott Moncrieff, points to the inequality in pay between men and women as being a potential barrier to the success of the proposals. She is reported as saying that “The reality is that for many couples, a disparity in pay between the father and mother will make it difficult for couples to share parental leave… Families will simply not be able to afford to live off the mother’s salary if it is significantly lower than the father’s.”
Image by bartdubelaar under a Creative Commons Licence