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Fathers to benefit from shared maternity benefits

Parents will be able to share maternity leave and pay under new plans set to be announced by the Coalition. Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will unveil plans that allow fathers to take time off and claim state benefits throughout the first year of their child’s life if the mother returns to employment.

Mothers will be able to return to work after two weeks, if the main household earner. The leave will still be automatically allocated to the mother unless they apply to transfer it to their partners.

Currently women are entitled to 90% of their earnings for the first six weeks after birth and then a maternity allowance, whilst fathers get two weeks.

The Government will have to build a new IT system to manage the allowances, which is expected to cost £22m.

A senior government source said: “This is being introduced slowly and with great care to ensure that it does not undermine business during the difficult economic times.

“But it was a Coalition pledge and it is important to both the Prime Minister and the Liberal Democrats that both parents should be supported to spend time with their new children.”

A government source said: “This has taken a long time to develop as the system has to be robust enough to prevent fraud, with both parents claiming.

“It was decided to keep the current default system of assistance being given to women. There are also other safeguards to prevent vulnerable mothers, or those in families which do not function well, from losing their entitlements. Absent fathers will not benefit.”

Maternity Action said: “Shared parental leave will increase the flexibility of current maternity leave to enable more fathers to share in caring for their baby. This is a long overdue change which recognises that fathers as well as mothers can care for their baby.

“The increased flexibility will offer families real choices about managing work and caring responsibilities. We are mystified at claims that this is a burden on business. The proposals allow families to share existing entitlements.

“Many people are unaware that Statutory Maternity Pay is reimbursed by Government and the same arrangements apply to shared parental leave.”

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