Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by New Ways to Work (PL 14)


  1.  Parental Leave should be paid because otherwise it will not be taken. The survey on take-up commissioned by the TUC[51] confirms what common-sense tells us: unpaid parental leave may be taken by some affluent women in stable relationships, in order to top up their maternity leave, but otherwise will be largely irrelevant.

  2.  We would submit to the Committee that to introduce Parental Leave into the U.K in an unpaid form is to miss a great opportunity.


  3.  We live in a time when women make up half the workforce and in the future may become the majority. Women are working longer hours and returning to work after having children faster than ever before. The caring work in and around the home, that has largely been the responsibility of women, remains to be done and is of vital importance.[52]

  4.  The world of work needs to be modernised to accommodate modern day realities and allow women and men to fulfil their domestic responsibilities. Some firms are introducing family friendly employment practices but the effect is piecemeal.[53] If Parental Leave was to be introduced in such a way that women and men could take it: paid, and operated flexibly, it could be taken as and when the individual needs of the family required, (subject also to the needs of the employer).

  5.  Parental Leave is one of the ways in which working families can be assisted. It gives parents a method by which they can balance their home and work responsibilities.

  6.  Children benefit from having more time with their parents. If maximum take up was ensured, every child in Britain could be guaranteed that (in addition to the first few weeks of life) one of his/her parents would be at home to look after him/her for 6 months and be their during domestic emergencies.

  7.  Employers also benefit because ignoring employees' domestic circumstances does not make their homes go away. If employees are granted rights that help them strike the right balance they are more contented, healthy and motivated.

  8.  Society can only benefit from allowing their future citizens the sorts of rights set out in para 6 above.

These rights may not seem much when set out as they are. They are a great deal more than they are at the moment when men for example have no statutory right to any time off work because they are fathers.

The Social Policy Aspects of Parental Leave

  9.  There are a number of elements that the committee should be aware of when considering how best to introduce parental leave: important groups that need specific consideration are as follows:—


  10.  Children put a financial strain on all of us, but the pressure on low income families is such that it is completely unrealistic to suggest that they will be able to avail themselves of the right to take parental leave unless their income is replaced.[54]


  11.  One of the biggest hurdles for single parents entering employment is knowing what to do if there is a domestic crisis at home. Parental Leave and Domestic Crisis leave will be of great assistance to those who have no one with whom they share their family responsibilities. However, the practical reality of the situation is that again unless these new rights are paid and well publicised, they will not be real rights that people can take.


  12.  The proper introduction of parental leave would send out a message that the government is truly interested in tackling the perceived Fathering deficit and the social problems that is engendering, particularly amongst boys. Parental leave can put emphasis on the unique contribution fathers can make to their children's upbringing, over and above being a breadwinner. In other words paid parental leave would recognise, for the first time, that there are times in the lives of men, when being a father is more important than anything else and that is a very important message.

  13.  Men's incomes still remain more important than women's in the average British household and therefore if unpaid leave was going to be taken by anyone it is even more unlikely to be taken by fathers than mothers.

  14.  The European experience of introducing parental leave shows that paying parental leave does not in itself guarantee take up amongst fathers. Leave needs to be flexible to attract them. It also needs to be made acceptable amongst men and their employers. Even those that would like to take it need to be assured that they will not be endangering their careers by doing so. We would suggest that the introduction of Parental Leave be fanfared by a series of television adverts particularly aimed at men.

What method of payment should be used?

  15.  It should be stated at the outset that New Ways to Work does not pretend to be an organisation with a high technical level of understanding of the social security system. Nevertheless, we hope that some of our ideas might be helpful to the Committee.


  16.  We would suggest that on the registering of the birth of a child, the parents are given a book of Parental Leave Vouchers. Each voucher could represent a day, week, month or whatever flexible unit has been decided. As leave was taken, the vouchers could be handed to the employer. If only a part of parental leave was to be paid, some of the vouchers could be gold perhaps, in contrast to the others.

  17.  The use of vouchers would have an important promotional aspect to them. It would be clear that a real right had been given. It would also act as some form of record keeping. (Record keeping only becomes an important issue when it is paid, we would suggest, not least because it will not be taken otherwise).

  18.  The books would be treasured in the same way that mothers look after their child benefit books.

Level of Payment

  19.  We would suggest that the mechanism and perhaps level of payment that would work best would be something akin to Maternity Pay. In other words the parent is paid by the employer, who reclaims most of the amount back from the government by simply holding back Tax and N.I. This has the benefit of not increasing the burden on the Social Security budget and is perceived as a benefit arising out of the parent's status as an employee.

  20.  If it is felt that to introduce this at the current time would be too expensive we would suggest that it is open to the government to introduce one of two limits:

    —  Limit the length of paid parental leave. In other words when parental leave is first introduced, only four weeks out of the three months is paid by the government, leaving it open for the employer to top it up.

    —  Limit the level of payment. Instead of granting a right to full income replacement initially perhaps to keep that right to a limit that shadows the minimum wage.

51   TUC Equal Rights Dept Survey: More time for the children: A report on the accessibility of Parental Leave. February 1999. Back

52   Women's working patterns Social trends seem to show that women are working longer hours: from an average of 24.8 hours in 1984 to 27.1 hours in 1994. Brannen J, Moss P and Wade C, 1997, Parental employment 1984 1994, Labour market trends, DfEE, London. Furthermore nearly half of married and cohabiting women with pre school children are working today, compared with a quarter 15 years ago. Wilkinson and Mulgan 1995, Freedom's children: work relationships and politics amongst 18-34 yearolds in Britain today, Demos. The proportion of dual income families in the U.K rose from 43 per cent in 1973 to 60 per cent in 1992. International Year of the Family, 1994, "Families and Work, Factsheet 3. 86 per cent of full time working mothers feel that they never have enough time to get things done and women are 10 to 20 per cent more likely than men of a similar age and status to feel stressed. Tyrell 1995, "Time in our Lives: facts and analysis on the 90s" in "Time Squeeze, Demos Quarterly" issue 5.3. Back

53   What is the extent of Paternity Leave in the U.K today? The Institute of Personnel and Development in conjunction with Hammond Studdards did a random survey of 2000 IPD members in April last year. They received 300 responses. In answer to the question: Does your organisation offer paternity leave?

Yes 57 per cent
No 43 per cent
It is not clear whether this is paid or unpaid.

For respondents who answered yes, the duration of the paternity leave was as follows:

Less than 5 days 50 per cent
5 days + 44 per cent
Discretion 6 per cent 

54   Statistics showing the proportion of people just making ends meet:

Pre family 34 per cent
Children under 5 49 per cent
Children over 5 53 per cent
Post family 36 per cent 

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