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Friday, 21 April, 2000, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
Parental leave 'boost' considered
Dad and children
Parents could get government money to stay at home
Working parents may be able to take more time off work to look after their children with the help of government funding, it has been announced.

The idea is being discussed as part of a review of maternity and parental leave being carried out by the Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers.

Under plans to be considered, parents would get up to 150 a week from the government and be allowed to take a maximum of 13 weeks off as paid leave.

More details are expected to be revealed next month, and the BBC's political correspondent, Nicholas Jones says it is possible the idea will be included in the next Labour manifesto.

Mother with baby
Most parents are said to back the idea
But businesses have warned the payments would add extra red tape to the bureaucratic burden faced by companies, and said small firms would have difficulty finding temporary replacements for staff taking weeks off to be with their children.

A spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry said a survey of its members had found parental leave was one of their greatest concerns, with 72% saying they were "very worried" about it.

And Ian Peters, the deputy director of the British Chambers of Commerce, told BBC Radio Four's PM programme: "What generally accompanies these kinds of proposals is a whole series of regulations and restrictions which remove the very flexibility that small companies need.

"The problem for small companies is that they have very few employees and to lose a key member of staff can really threaten the business."

Plans could cost 500m

Last December, the government introduced a policy giving workers the right to take up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave in the first five years of their children's lives.

But the policy was criticised by some campaigners, who said only better-off parents would be able to consider losing their earnings for 13 weeks.

It was then announced in last month's Budget that the government was also planning to review parents' future entitlement to paid time off.

Now it has been confirmed that the review will look at the possibility of the state contributing towards the cost of part of that leave.

It is estimated that the proposal could cost up to 500m if adopted.

Groups campaigning on behalf of working parents have welcomed the development.

The Labour MP Ruth Kelly said a survey had shown that 60% of parents were prepared to pay higher tax if they could be sure of getting appropriate benefits in return, such as a week's paid leave when their child started nursery school.

Ministers are expected to argue that the policy would lead to a happier and more settled workforce.

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21 Mar 00 | Budget2000
Health billions top Budget
14 Dec 99 | Business
New fathers get unpaid leave
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