They say it takes a village to raise a child. George Osborne appears to agree with this proverb in some respects with a proposed extension of Shared Parental Leave to grandparents.
Currently, a mother must take a minimum of 2 weeks’ maternity leave following the birth (4 if she works in a factory). She can then end maternity leave after the 2 weeks and take up to a maximum of 50 weeks with her partner as Shared Parental Leave, subject to eligibility. Parents have the right to share up to 50 weeks leave (and 37 weeks of pay) between them in any combination they wish. To qualify for Shared Parental Leave, both parents must be ‘economically active’ for 26 weeks by the beginning of the 15th week before the baby’s due date earning on average at least £30 a week based on any 13 of those weeks. For adopters, the 26 weeks’ work counts until the time when an adopter was notified of having been matched with a child.
Under the proposals put forward by Government, this is to be extended to working grandparents thereby allowing mothers and fathers return to work earlier. A grandmother or grandfather on parental leave would be entitled to statutory shared parental pay. This is currently £139.58 a week or 90 percent of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower. According to an Office of National Statistics report published on 19 March 2015, 75.3% of people aged between 50 and the State Pension Age were participating in the labour market in the final quarter of 2014, along with 12.1% of people beyond the State Pension Age. 349,000 are working in caring, personal and service occupations. 80.6% of workers between 50 years of age and the State Pension Age are employees; 63.8% of workers working past the State Pension Age are employees.
According to Grandparent Plus, a charity supporting the role of grandparents in the family, 17% of grandparents with a grandchild under 16 provide intensive levels of childcare of at least ten hours a week. Commentators have suggested that the policy may be particularly popular among lone parents. According to Gingerbread, a charity supporting single parent families, there are two million single parents in the UK making up a quarter of families with dependent children. The share of lone parents in employment has risen from 43.8% in 1996 to 64.4% in 2015.
The government will consult on the details of the policy in the first half of 2016 and is aiming to be in a position to implement by 2018. This proposal is in the early stages and so it is impossible to predict how it will be adopted in law, but employers may need to revise their family friendly policies again in the not too distant future to ensure that they do not discriminate (inadvertently or otherwise) against grandparents wishing to take Shared Parental Leave. For more information on how to address issues relating to parental leave, please contact a member of the Employment Team at Devonshires Solicitors LLP.