Shared leave for parents: a step forward? Guest blog by Sarah Jackson, Working Families

Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive, Working FamiliesThe government’s consultation Modern Workplaces introduces the idea of shared leave for parents, proposing that parents are able to split a year’s worth of leave between them after their child is born. The intended outcome is to offer parents more choice about who works and who cares; instead of mothers having a long maternity leave whilst a father is entitled to a mere two weeks off, parents will be able to split leave more equally between them, and may even be able to ‘chunk’ it up into small blocks.

Is this a good idea? Anything that gives parents more choice and flexibility about how they combine work and family life is a good thing. It’s also good news that fathers are potentially getting a fairer deal. Increasing numbers of working men report that they want to be able to spend more time looking after their children, but are deterred from doing it by a combination of restrictive leave entitlements and a workplace culture which still sees childcare as a mother’s thing. The idea of a period of leave reserved specifically for fathers to take – a Daddy month – is a neat idea. Research suggests that ‘shared leave’ is often used by mothers, so a use-it-or-lose it month for fathers should stimulate take up. But there isn’t anything here for low-income fathers, many of whom don’t even take their current allowance of two weeks paternity leave because they can’t afford it. Properly paying leave at wage replacement levels would make a huge impact on parents being able to share the care.

These proposals are really significant for employers. One effect will be to undermine assumptions about who can usually be expected to do the childcare, and organisational policies will have to be refocused away from mainly maternity-based ones. This might also be a good time for those employers who have not yet rolled out flexibility to all their workforce to consider doing so, to engender a more flexible working culture and help the organisation prepare for the proposed changes.

It will be interesting to see what business has to say about the idea of shared leave for parents as they respond to the consultation. Beyond the usual complaints about red tape which accompany any proposed change to employment law, it will be a useful barometer of attitudes to family life if employer organisations feel able to say that allowing men the opportunity to care for the young children will be ’bad for business’.

Sarah Jackson is Chief Executive of Working Families, the UK’s leading work-life balance organisation.

If you looking for more advice on new paternity rights, Working Families has produced a useful Q & A.

These opinions are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Computershare Voucher Services.