Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Parents can share time off for babies, ministers say

Father and baby
Mothers will be able to return to work and hand over care to fathers

New mothers will be able to transfer the second half of their year-long maternity leave to the father, the government has confirmed.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the changes would take effect from April 2011.

Under the plan, if a mother returns to work, the father could take six months off with half paid at £123.06 week.

The Tories said the plans first set out in 2004 were repeatedly postponed and trailed behind their own proposals.

'Family friendly'

The proposed changes affect England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland is expected to follow later.

The Westminster government's Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman, said: "This gives families radically more choice and flexibility in how they balance work and care of children, and enables fathers to play a bigger part in bringing up their children.

"We've doubled maternity leave; doubled maternity pay; introduced paternity leave; more than doubled good quality affordable childcare places; and introduced right to request flexible working.

"This is a further family friendly policy."

But her Tory shadow, Theresa May, said: "I hope that the government has finally followed our lead and accepted the need for parents to have more flexibility in how they take their paid maternity leave."

She added: "Labour's track record implies that this is a pre-election pledge that could be quietly dropped after voters go to the polls.

"Labour went into the last election promising to extend maternity leave to a year, but have broken that pledge, why should anyone trust them on paternity leave now?"

She said Conservatives' plans would offer fathers up to double the amount of paid paternity leave compared with the government's policy - and would let parents take their leave simultaneously.

The campaign group Families Need Fathers welcomed the government proposals.

It said the current parental leave system just reinforced the traditional gender roles of "mothers as carers and fathers as breadwinners" which no longer applied.

"What needs to come next is the end of 'maternity' and 'paternity' leave," the organisation said.

"This should be replaced with an allocation of parental leave to be divided between parents as they see fit, allowing them to choose how they work and parent."

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