Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced the reforms in a move which will enable couples to choose how they divide parental leave between them.
The plans, which feature in The Home Front, a new report from the tinktank Demos and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner will allow parents greater flexibility over childcare arrangements but are expected to face criticism from small businesses over the prospect of men taking such long periods of time off work.
Current regulations allow men just two weeks of paid paternity leave.
David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce said: ‘The plans show a complete lack of understanding of how small businesses work.
‘If men and women have flexible parental leave, how can you plan for the absence and how do you plan for cover?’ Frost added
In April, paternity laws passed by Labour will come into effect which give parents the option of sharing the 39 weeks of paid leave and 13 weeks of unpaid leave.
This could, in theory, result in fathers taking all of the time off while mothers return to work early.
The report finds that being in employment is generally good for parenting, but can have a negative impact when the job is characterised by inflexibility in terms of hours and the culture of the workplace.
Demos called for the Government to encourage businesses to take the opportunity presented by recession and rising unemployment to experiment with flexible work arrangements and shorter hours.
The report also backed transferable parental leave to be shared by the mother and father on a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ basis – something that was supported by 41 per cent of fathers and 31per cent of mothers in a survey they commissioned to form part of the report.
Demos director Kitty Ussher said: ‘Work does not have a straightforward relationship with parenting. It’s not only the number of hours worked, but also the flexibility of a parent’s schedule and the quality of their work that makes a difference to children.’
Children’s Commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson, whose office funded the research, said: ‘The lesson from this is that we have to look at ways of working that allow parents to share responsibility and provide children with the support parents want to give.’
Jonathan Russell, partner at Oxfordshire based accountants, ReesRussell said “Maternity pay and leave has always been a management problem and cost for small businesses, and the extension to allow transferability to fathers would give a further problem to businesses.
Russell added: “If a member of staff is pregnant, there is reasonable notice and steps can be taken to cover any absence but many businesses may not even be aware of impending or actual fatherhood of employees and therefore requests for time off may come out of the blue. As always, businesses can adjust for things they know are coming and it will therefore be vital that strict notice, and reasonable notice, is applied to this proposed transfer.”
It would however appear that Demos polled only 1,017 parents on how they feel about parenting, support services, and the pressures and influences on their lives to form some of their findings and given the acute problems SMEs are facing in the UK we are unsure how many businesses could cope with having staff absent for upto ten months.
You can download & read a full copy of the report from Demos here