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‘Flexible parental leave’ from 2015

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has confirmed the details of the Government’s parental leave overhaul.

At the heart of the new proposals is that mothers will be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave and once they have taken the first two weeks after the birth, they can opt to use the rest as they like, as ‘flexible’ parental leave – with the father taking some or both parents taking some together.

In a speech today, Clegg said: “Women in this country are now better qualified than men. Girls do better at school; more go to university; they are just as ambitious. And, in the words of the World Bank, gender equality is ‘smart economics’. It isn’t just the key to a fairer society. It’s the key to prosperity too.

“So the challenge I want to address today is this: when women take a break from work to have children, how do we give them a route back? This isn’t about forcing mothers to work when they don’t want or need to, but it is about giving them a real choice. The problem comes down to a whole range of clapped out rules and arrangements.”

He went on: “I can announce today that, from 2015, the UK will shift to an entirely new system of flexible parental leave. Under the new rules, a mother will be able to trigger flexible leave at any point, if and when she feels ready.

“That means that whatever time is left to run on her original year can be taken by her partner instead. Or they can chop up the remaining time between them – taking it in turns. Or they can take time off together – whatever suits them.

“The only rule is that no more than 12 months can be taken in total, with no more than nine months at guaranteed pay. And, of course, couples will need to be open with their employers, giving them proper notice.”

Clegg’s favoured idea to reserve some time specifically for fathers – known as ‘use-it-or-lose-it’, on the hope it would drive take-up – have been postponed for now due to concerns from businesses and his Conservative Coalition colleagues.

He said: “I’ve accepted that extending paternity leave should be revisited when the economy is in a stronger state.”

But shadow home secretary and shadow minister for equalities Yvette Cooper said: “Nick Clegg promises help for families, yet the truth is his Government is doing the opposite. Nick Clegg and David Cameron's policies are making it harder for parents to afford maternity or paternity leave, and for many workers the right to request flexible working is being undermined.

“Working mums are being hit hardest of all by cuts to tax credits, child care and child benefit. Families with children under one have lost a shocking £1,000 a year as a result of Nick Clegg and David Cameron's policies, according to the IFS. That means many parents may not be able to afford to take their full maternity or paternity leave anyway.”

Katja Hall, the CBI's chief policy director, said: “Companies support the right of all staff to request flexible working, but they must be able to decide each case on its merits, as it may not be practical for all firms.”

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said: “The Government’s own assessment shows the extension will bring a net benefit of £222.5m to employers through increased productivity and through savings from reduced sickness, absenteeism and recruitment costs. Flexible working is an essential tool for business success.”

(Paternity leave image copyright Jyri Engestrom used here under a Creative Commons licence. Some rights reserved.)

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