Maternity leave may be ‘shared’ by both parents, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced this month. As part of his speech in Putney, South London, about women and flexible working, Mr. Clegg revealed plans to split maternity leave. This would allow parents to take time off after the birth of their child.
From 2015, parents have the option to be able to divide the traditional year’s maternity leave between them as they wish, with the one exception that mothers must take the first two weeks off after birth.
“Women who want to work, although uncommitted to fulltime, may find themselves locked out of the labour market, particularly when they chose to start a family,” Mr. Clegg said during his speech at the Third Door nursery in Putney.
He explained that the initiative’s aim is to give women, post-maternity leave, a route back into the workforce and a choice.“[Current] arrangements assume that families are still comprised of one bread winner and one homemaker: Mum in the kitchen, Dad in the office. Even though the reality is that, in many families, both parents work, often juggling busy lives, often working part-time, often without relatives or friends close by who can help out.”
Under current legislation, fathers are entitled to up to two consecutive weeks of ‘ordinary statutory paternity leave,’ which must be taken within eight weeks of the child’s birth. It was reported that Mr. Clegg had initially considered extending this, however had to back down due to the cost to businesses. Paternity leave might be reviewed again in 2017.
Mr. Clegg’s new proposals recognise the growing importance of women’s roles in the workplace and may be seen as a productive step in efforts to give women equal rights and equal importance at work. The proposals might also allow new fathers to spend more quality time with their newborn babies, earlier in life.
Wife and mother Victoria Taylor had a mixed reaction to the proposal. “I think this is a great idea for those parents who want to have the option and flexibility to share the leave” she told The Positive.
Mr. Clegg’s plans also extend to the right to request flexible working, which was previously reserved for parents or carers of dependent children. Under his proposals, it aims to be available to all employees.
Emma Stewart, MBE, founder and director of Women Like Us, a careers advice and support service for women with children, told The Positive that the proposals were “a good step in the right direction,” however added that allowing flexible working should least of all only be focused on the retention of staff, however for recruiting new talent too.
“There are half a million people in the UK who can only work on a part time basis,” she said. “In order to make real change, businesses should be helped to see the value of opening up new roles and providing the option for these roles to be worked part-time and flexibly.”