The Government announced in its March 2016 Budget that it will launch a consultation in May on how to implement its commitment to extend Shared Parental Leave and Pay to working grandparents.

The Shared Parental Leave scheme was introduced in April 2015 and in basic terms allows eligible parents to share up to 50 weeks’ leave between them during the first year of their child’s life.  This means that a mother can go back to work early, passing the remainder of her leave entitlement to her partner rather than losing it completely, although the respective leave periods can alternatively be taken concurrently.

Now the Government is looking at extending the right to cover sharing those 50 weeks’ leave with a child’s working grandparents in addition.  Aside from the potential headache of up to 6 different employers having to negotiate their way through splitting a number of weeks’ leave between the various eligible individuals (we assume that provision will be made for the entitlement to be split if desired between all 4 grandparents as well as the parents), the question one might ask is whether society is really crying out for this?

A report published six months after the introduction of Shared Parental Leave suggested that just 2% of companies polled had seen a take up of Shared Parental Leave by fathers (Source:  My Family Care).  There are likely to be economic and social factors involved in this, particularly the fathers’ statistically higher earnings, but it does raise the question of how many grandparents would really wish to take time out of work at little over £100 a week if the father himself chooses not to. See our earlier commentary on this here.

On the face of it, the extension of the right for grandparents seems like a good idea in principle, and recognises that parents are increasingly reliant on the help of their own parents in caring for their children.  And yet you wonder whether working grandparents will find themselves in the same predicament as their own children when it comes to being able to afford to take the time off?  Presumably they are still in work because they need the income; therefore do we really expect to see significant take-up by grandparents?

In reality the Government, whilst trying earnestly to expand and diversify family friendly policy in the UK, is missing one key factor:  it is generally retired grandparents who assist with caring for grandchildren whilst the parents are at work.  This is widely believed to save the economy millions each year in childcare costs (Source:  Grandparents plus).

The unavoidable conclusion is that this is something which sounded like a vote-winner pre-Election and now has to be seen to be toyed with for a little while before it is side-lined to a time with less on the political agenda. One can but hope that if it does ever become law, they take the opportunity to re-write the whole shared leave regime and don’t just bolt the enormous administrative burden which grandparental leave would represent onto the top of the already tottering structure of the existing single-generation rules.