Equality and Human Rights Commission: New Parental Leave Proposals

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is today launching proposals for a fundamental change in parental leave, to give mothers and fathers greater support in bringing up children.

The three-step plan aims to increase the take up of the present provision by fathers and lower income parents who lose out under the current system. 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 outgoing Chief Executive, argues 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 report also reveals findings from a major survey of 4,500 parents. They show high levels of demand for new flexible working practices to support families from all income groups – including new ways of allowing fathers to spend more time with their children.

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 motherswho 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 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.

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