Creating a fairer Britain
30 March 2009
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, carefully-costed plan will increase the take up of the present provision by those missing out – namely fathers and lower income parents. 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 Chief Executive, argued 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:
The report includes analysis by financial consultants, indicating that 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.
The total cost is equivalent to 0.53 per cent of GDP. This is lower than the 0.84 per cent of GDP Britain spends on child benefit and the 0.95 per cent spent on child tax credit - two other benefits with similar policy objectives.
The Commission also today unveiled the results of its 'state of the nation' survey of 4,500 parents by YouGov, asking them about their attitudes to work, care and family life. It finds that modern mothers and fathers defy the Fifties stereotype of stay-at-home mums and breadwinner dads. They aspire to approach parenting as a team effort, shared between mothers, fathers, partners and other carers.
But Britain's parental leave policies, coupled with old fashioned ways of working in some workplaces, are pushing parents into difficult compromises - and the reality of their arrangements do not always match their aspirations for caring and working in the 21st century.
The polling finds there is widespread support for a modern approach to parental leave and flexible working that enables parents to exercise real choice:
Turning to flexibility at work, parents reveal that many flexible approaches to work are already working for them, suggesting Britain is reaching a tipping point. However, there is still a need to capitalize on the momentum and promote further change:
The report concludes that although Britain appears on paper to have weaker flexible work legislation than other countries - a right to ‘request’ vs. a right to ‘have’ - in practice Britain has a wider range of alternative ways of working than elsewhere in Europe.
This is often driven by enlightened employers offering jobs more flexibly in the first place, informal arrangements and the right to request. These include not just part-time work, but compressed hours, term-time working to fit with school holidays and job sharing.
But the Commission also found that parents' awareness of the right to request is low (less than half of parents are aware of the right to request flexible working) and there is a growing divide between workplaces where flexible working is 'business as usual' and workplaces where progress has been limited.
According to the report, the challenge now is to keep up the momentum to extend the business benefits of flexible working in the face of a recession; extend awareness of flexible working to the workplaces that have not yet embraced change; and ensure that those working flexibly at work are not pushed into a ghetto of low pay and poor prospects.
While the Commission doesn't believe the 'right to request' should become a 'right to have', the Commission is calling for:
Nicola Brewer, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
'Our report indicates some British employers are ahead of the legislation in terms of adopting modern ways of working and we're heading in the right direction on flexibility. The challenge now is to keep up the momentum in the face of the economic down turn, and extend the benefits to fit us for the upturn.
'But when it comes to modern approaches to parental leave, we may need to try a different route. Today we are proposing one of the most radical changes in our approach to parental leave in a decade. We have spoken to parents, to employers, to unions and to leading academic experts in the field, and we believe that the Working Better report lays out a road-map to 2020 which will put Britain ahead of the curve in terms of modern working practices.
'Flexibility is a tool many British businesses use to unlock talent. Changing the way we approach parental leave could be one way of tackling the gender pay gap. By supporting men to be good fathers as well as good employees, it would also help children do better at school and equips them for the world of work. And it would help families on lower incomes to balance work and the rest of their lives.”
For more information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission Media Office on 02031170255, out of hours 07767 272818.
Potential timeline for implementation of a three staged policy transformation by 2020. The £5.26bn in additional costs above and beyond the £2.07 the UK already spends on parental leave policies would also be phased in over three years: £1.38 billion for stage one, £1.11 billion for stage two, and £2.76 for stage three.
|Introduce small scale change to increase take-up by low earners||Address cultural bias towards mothers as primary carer||Introduce a more holistic approach to parental leave, with equal access for both parents|
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission will enforce equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act. It will also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.