Radical approach to parental leave proposed by EHRC

Following the results of a survey entitled Working better which anaylsed a sample of 4500 parents, The Equality and Human Rights Commission are proposing a fundamental change in parental leave. The three-step will increase the take up of the present provision by those missing out – namely fathers and lower income parents. The Commission says that the changes will help tackle the gender pay-gap, bring greater support and social benefits to parents and children, and show modern ways of working are better for the economy.

In a speech to mark the launch of its report, Working Better, Nicola Brewer, the Commission's Chief Executive, argued that over the past decade increases in maternity leave have brought welcome support for mothers. But without also looking at more leave for fathers in their own right and leave parents can share between them according to what best fits their personal circumstances, we risk entrenching the career penalty women pay at work, and the parenting penalty men pay at home.

The Commission's ten-year strategy will result in leave being divided more equally between parents. The report also calls for higher levels of maternity and paternity pay to increase uptake, particularly among men, lone parents and lower income groups. The £5.3bn costs of the new plan would be introduced incrementally, ending with a new model of leave in 2020. In time, that model would provide:

For fathers:

  • the first two weeks’ paternity leave at the birth of their child would be retained, but at 90 per cent pay
  • four months of dedicated 'parental leave' which can be taken after the mother's six months of maternity leave comes to an end. This right would be available until their child's fifth birthday
  • at least eight weeks of that leave should be supported at 90 per cent of pay.

For mothers:

  • The first 26 weeks would remain dedicated maternity leave for mothers. The number of weeks paid at 90 per cent pay would be increased from six to 26 weeks
  • After six months, mothers would get the same 'parental leave' arrangements as fathers.

For both:

  • Four months of parental leave that either parent can take, at least eight weeks at 90 percent of pay.

For low income parents:

  • the research found that fathers in families with an income of up to £15,000 are much less likely (46 per cent) to take paternity leave than those in the highest income group (59 per cent)
  • 48 per cent of mothers who are lone parents are far more likely to take a short period of maternity leave, compared to 31 per cent of mothers in a relationship
  • the Commission's recommendations would increase the rates of pay for both mothers and fathers, ensuring more low income and single parents can afford to take leave.

The report includes analysis by financial consultants, indicating that the proposals would cost an additional £5.26bn above and beyond the £2.07bn the UK already spends on parental leave policies. The Commission believes the changes in leave could be introduced step-by-step in an affordable manner. The first phase would cost £1.38 billion.
The total cost is equivalent to 0.53 per cent of GDP. This is lower than the 0.84 per cent of GDP Britain spends on child benefit and the 0.95 per cent spent on child tax credit - two other benefits with similar policy objectives.

Nicola Brewer, Former Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Our report indicates some British employers are ahead of the legislation in terms of adopting modern ways of working and we're heading in the right direction on flexibility. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum in the face of the economic down turn, and extend the benefits to fit us for the upturn.

'But when it comes to modern approaches to parental leave, we may need to try a different route. Today we are proposing one of the most radical changes in our approach to parental leave in a decade. We have spoken to parents, to employers, to unions and to leading academic experts in the field, and we believe that the Working Better report lays out a road-map to 2020 which will put Britain ahead of the curve in terms of modern working practices.

'Flexibility is a tool many British businesses use to unlock talent. Changing the way we approach parental leave could be one way of tackling the gender pay gap. By supporting men to be good fathers as well as good employees, it would also help children do better at school and equips them for the world of work. And it would help families on lower incomes to balance work and the rest of their lives.'

posted by Asif Yusuf

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