Flexible parental leave to give mothers 'real choice' over work-life balance


Nick Clegg says sharing parental leave is better for modern parents

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New mothers will be able to return to work two weeks after childbirth and share the rest of their maternity leave with their partner under new plans.

From 2015, a fully flexible system of parental leave in England, Scotland and Wales will give women a clearer "route back" to work, ministers have said.

Parents will be able to take time off together or in turns and have a legal right to request flexible working.

Unions welcomed the plans but small businesses warned of their cost.

The coalition government has been looking at ways of extending flexible working and making existing parental leave arrangements work better for both partners and conducted a consultation last year.

At the moment, new mothers can take a maximum of 52 weeks of leave after the birth of their child, while fathers are entitled to two weeks of statutory paternity leave of their own.

'Proper notice'

Since April 2011, fathers and mothers have been able to share some of the 52 weeks' existing leave, with the father able to take up to six months beginning after the baby is 20 weeks old.

However, this can only be taken as a single block - as can the leave the mother takes.

Ministers are now promising a new system, to come into effect in 2015, based on "maximum flexibility". In a speech on Tuesday, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced.

  • A new mother will be able to trigger flexible leave at any point after the first two weeks' recovery period
  • Parents will be able to share the remaining 50 weeks between them as they like
  • Leave could be taken in turns, in different blocks, or at the same time
  • Maximum leave will remain 12 months, nine of them on guaranteed pay
  • Couples will need to be "open" with employers and give them "proper notice"
  • Paternity leave to remain at two weeks but to be reviewed in 2018

Members of the public give their views on parental leave

Mr Clegg said ministers considered the option of increasing the amount of statutory paternity leave but that had been put on hold amid concerns in business and government about its cost.

However, expectant fathers will be able to claim unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments.

"I have accepted that extending paternity leave should be revisited when the economy is in a stronger state," he said.

"These are major reforms and - at a time of continuing economic difficulty - it is sensible to do them in a number of steps rather than one giant leap. More and more men are taking on childcare duties - or want to - and flexible leave builds on that."

'Impossible equation'

Mr Clegg also said that the government will extend the legal right to request flexible working to all employers.

Millions of parents already enjoy the right to request flexible working - such as changing shifts, varying start and finish times, working from home or shifting to part-time hours.

Start Quote

We must ensure that the new system is simple to administer, and does not give rise to legal action from fathers seeking parental rights that mirror those available to mothers”

End Quote Katja Hall Confederation of British Industry

At the moment, parents with children up to the age of 16, or parents with disabled children up to 18, can request flexible working patterns as long as they have at least 26 weeks of service.

Employers must seriously consider such a request, although they are within their rights to turn it down for sound business reasons.

But the deputy prime minister said there was still a stigma attached to requesting flexible hours and the government intended to legislate to give everyone the right to do so, when parliamentary time allows.

The combined measures, he claimed, will give parents "more options" and professional women a "real choice" about how they balance their careers and family responsibilities while respecting couples who want more "traditional arrangements".

"So many couples feel like they are facing an impossible mathematical equation," he said of current arrangements.

"And it is an equation where the answer is almost always rigged. Because whichever way you look at it, the solution ends up with the mother doing more of the caring and the father doing more of the earning."

Downing Street said the implications for business had been fully considered and administration of the new rules would be "as light-touch as possible".


The Confederation of British Industry employers' group said flexible parental leave was a good way of supporting working families.

"We must ensure that the new system is simple to administer, and does not give rise to legal action from fathers seeking parental rights that mirror those available to mothers," said its chief policy director Katja Hall.

But the Federation of Small Businesses said extending the right to request flexible working would place added burdens on firms.

"Allowing chunks of maternity and paternity leave of as little as one week to be taken will place a disproportionate strain on small firms and will be very complicated to administer," said its national chairman John Walker.

Unions, however, said the changes would make "life easier" for millions of working parents.

"Allowing all staff to ask to work flexibly is common sense to good employers," said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

"But we know that too many businesses are still reluctant to modernise working practices so the government is right to give them a nudge with this new universal right to request flexible working."

Labour said flexible parental leave was "helpful" and built on changes introduced by the party when they were in government but warned that women should not be rushed into returning to the workplace before they were ready.

Shadow women's minister Yvette Cooper said cuts to child benefit, child tax credits and childcare were making life difficult for many parents. "Nick Clegg and David Cameron need to wake up to the real financial pressures most working families face, and stop making it harder, rather than easier, for families to manage," she said


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  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    I have worked for an organisation that allowed flexible working, home working, job sharing and all these other good things. It was fine for some they could adjust their hours to suit school times or take time off unpaid for school holidays but guess who had to do extra to cover the gap. I do think most of those who come up with these schemes have ever had to work in a real job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    OK so tell me, who is going to be you GP in 50 years time? who going to manage your private pension? It our children and their children. Look at it like this, today, who deserves my cash more, a family bringing up the person who will be my GP in 30 years time or you someone like yourself who wants to use the money to probably go on holiday coz yr so stressed...

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.


    the old system,you recall it,Mommy stays at home,Daddy goes to work,it worked perfectly well for a fair few centuries. We think we know better of course
    Slavery "worked perfectly well for a fair few centuries", thankfully we now do know better of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Shadow women's minister Yvette Cooper said cuts to child benefit, child tax credits and childcare were making life difficult for many parents. 

    She could have added that the Socialist Benefit Hand Out now stands at 200 Billion ! she could them maybe instead of the usual mealy mouthed platitudes have come up with a idea of how to stop taxing everyone to death to fund the scandal !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    While large organisations can cope with this small business cannot. The Government is piling more and more on to small business many of which are struggling to remain afloat. I do fear we are going to end up with the wonderful terms and conditions for employees but no jobs for them to do. WE ARE SLOWLEY PRICING OURSELVES OUT OF THE WORLDS JOBS MARKET. Companies will just move jobs overseas

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    children are the future. They will be paying the taxes which fund your retirement, they will be paying for your NHS hip replacment..

    There not my future. Do you have a reference to an academically reviewed study that proves they will fund my retirement or give me any advantage at all or is this just a bit of self invented BS you use to justify your explotation to yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    182. louis

    I cannot see your argument ? of course children are a luxury.. Oh sorry I see now.. you mean its your entitlement to drop kids like a B 52 bomber drops bombs. and that you are entitled to put the requirements of these kids on others '' investment '' i think you elude to. so ask who's the more selfish the people taxed to pay for the progeny. Or the one demanding their support ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.


    Unfortunately they (though hopefully not yours personally) will also be the future unemployed, petty bureaucrats, criminals and even MP's! And if we didn't have so many old people we wouldn't need so many young people. Now, where did they all come from again?

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    This idea is good in principal but can it work I fail to understand rhe governments reasoning on one hand they want to do away with a lot of workers rights they fail to increase the minimum wage to the level pf a living wage and yet they bring in things like this and pension rights for all it just does not make sense

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Once again the political elite have forgotten that a huge number of tax payers/voters live as childless or one person families.This is a discriminatory benefit giving advantage with public money on the basis of a lifestyle choice. If status based benefits are to continue then they must be given in equal value to all parts of society.
    Social group exploitation is wrong. We all only get one life !

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    I wonder if God or the Big Bang creator person envisaged life the way it has unfolded. Or to put it another way, Are we a very silly race?
    Do we live to work or work to live.
    Do we work to provide for ourselves or to enrich others.
    Are children a curse or a blessing.
    What is the best way to bring them up.
    Why do we let corporations take shed loads of our money to house us, feed, heat and water us

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    When you grow up you will understand that our time on this earth (with exception of Tony) is very short. The reason we as a race are still here is people having children. Yes you pay taxes and some of that may go to people who have children but the children are the future. They will be paying the taxes which fund your retirement, they will be paying for your NHS hip replacment...

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    We can either have flexible working or continue to have the most useless and feckless people in society do all the breeding and lay the foundations of a broken and backwards nation in years to come.

    Take your choice. It's ironic the people who complain most about the former also complain about the latter too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    9 Minutes ago

    I propose that we scrap all these benefits for families as they are unfair to childless working people who are funding it......This country is so anti-non family and it's high time us working childless people were treated better.
    Boo, hoo. Woe is me etc. Let me swap my ultra cheap term time holidays for your mega-expensive anytime holidays etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Topsy turvy world. The time is coming when mothers will have full-time jobs, men will only work part-time to provide maternity cover and keep house. Full-time workers will be taxed heavily to fund the terrorists and hate preachers upkeep and top up EU budget. As household incomes will be too low, the children will work full-time probably in re-opened coal mines, to fund their own existence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Flexible working can work for both employer and employee. It works perfectly where I work. We are a small department and work out amongst outselves who works when a couple of weeks in advance, making sure we all cover our ours. Result: better service for our customers and better working conditions for us and we don't all have children. But then, we're rational human beings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    Mike from Brum
    2 Minutes ago

    I work, my husband works 2 jobs....
    That's it exactly, can't afford them,don't have them. The alternative is you have to leech off society to raise your sprogs.
    Hear hear! I assume you have likewise castigated your parents about any help they received when they had you, i mean you did didn't you? Or does this only apply to others?

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    "working childless people"

    I am childfree...no childless. There is nothing "less" about my life without kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    2 Minutes ago
    to norcorider
    thank you, but think out of the box before you speak. goodbye
    same for you Suzzane. enjoy your day :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    Lynn Featherstone (Equalities Minister) says there is one significant remaining barrier to equality between men and women .... "women are the ones that have children". Expect majority of medical research budget to be diverted to enabling men to have at least half of the children in future...


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