Jenny Willott writes… How Lib Dems are giving families choice through shared parental leave and flexible working

Parents and child - Some rights reserved by Ed YourtonAs a mother with two small children myself, I know how hard it can be to balance work and family life. And as a Lib Dem, I firmly believe in equal opportunities for all and tackling discrimination, whatever form it takes.

So I am really excited that with Lib Dems in Government, we are shaking up the status quo to make it easier for parents with young children to arrange their work/life balance however best suits them.

We need to challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home – many fathers want that option too. But the current system of maternity and paternity leave is rigid and restrictive.
That is why from April 2015 we’re introducing shared parental leave to allow couples to make that decision jointly, ensuring all career options remain open to women after pregnancy.

Under the scheme, after the first two weeks’ recovery period that mothers have to take off after birth a mother can choose to end her maternity leave and pay early and working couples will be able to share the untaken weeks of leave and pay.

This will drive a real cultural shift allowing women to choose to return to work earlier if they wish; reducing the impact of pregnancy on women’s careers and helping working dads play a greater role in their child’s early months.

The Liberal Democrats’ founding principle is to create a fairer society; I believe this announcement is a perfect demonstration of Lib Dems in Government putting our principles into practice, creating a modern workplace that gives parents the flexibility to choose how they share care for their child in the first year after birth.

But of course, the balancing act doesn’t stop as soon as your child reaches their first birthday, so in June we are extending the right to request flexible working to all employees, and we are simplifying the regulations for businesses on how to handle such requests. We are also increasing the age of child for which a parent can take unpaid parental leave from the current 5 years to 18 years. This change will take place in April 2015.

As a Minister in the Business Department, I don’t want to add significant burdens to business, so these rights are as simple as possible for everyone to use; I believe all of these changes will actually benefit employers, allowing them to keep talented women in the workforce and have more motivated and productive staff, both male and female.

* Jenny Willott was the Lib Dem MP for Cardiff Central and chaired the working group on working age social security policy in 2016.

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  • Eddie Sammon 17th Mar '14 - 1:03pm

    Thanks Jenny. I didn’t comment on this at first because I didn’t know what to say and I think perhaps others feel the same. This used to be one of my favourite Lib Dem policies, but recently I have become less enthusiastic due to conservative worries about breast milk being best for the child. If fears about this could be reassured in future that would be great.


  • Can I just check that the mothers given the 2 weeks’ automatic leave only applies where they have physically given birth?

    That is, surrogate mothers get the 2 weeks, while the legal parents (and principal carers) get the rest of the parental leave.

    What about when pregnant women need more leave before birth for health reasons? Will that finally count as sickness rather than maternity?

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