Ministers are to consult on a new system of parental leave, to allow mothers and fathers more flexibility to share time off after a baby’s birth, Nick Clegg is due to announce.
The Deputy Prime Minister will confirm that the coalition Government is pressing ahead in April with measures drawn up by the previous Labour administration to allow fathers to take up any remaining unpaid maternity leave if mothers go back to work early, up to a maximum of six months.
But Mr Clegg will say that he and Prime Minister David Cameron want to go further with additional reforms in 2015. He will denounce the existing system as “Edwardian” and say it causes suffering to women, men and children.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s comments come in a speech at the London launch of a report by thinktank Demos, which warns that overwork, stress and inflexible hours are undermining parents’ confidence in bringing up children.
The report is expected to dismiss Conservative proposals for a £150-a-year tax break for married couples as a “weak tool” to help families.
But sources close to Mr Clegg said he would not mention the tax issue in his speech, pointing out that Liberal Democrats had already made their opposition clear in last year’s coalition agreement with Tories.
Any new changes to parental leave must preserve mothers’ right to time off in the first months of their baby’s life, protect the rights of lone mothers, be simple to administer and take the needs of employers into account, Mr Clegg will say.
They should “transform the opportunities for fathers to take time off to care for their children” and make it possible for mums and dads to split their leave in whatever way suits them best. This could involve taking leave in a number of chunks, rather than a single block, or mothers and fathers taking time off together, rather than one after the other.
Fathers could be offered additional blocks of “use-it-or-lose-it” leave which is not transferable to their wives or partners in order to encourage them to spend more time at home with their young child.
Mr Clegg will say it is vital that the reforms help not only the rich, but also the ordinary working families who he refers to as “alarm clock Britain”. “Too many of these parents feel trapped by the current, rigid rules. We want to give them the flexibility that sets them free,” he will say.