In 2012, the Coalition Government took more baby steps to improve the family rights regime in the UK. It announced that from 2015, the additional paternity leave introduced in 2010 will be abolished and in its place a new flexible parental leave provision will afford mothers the ability to share their leave with the father/their partner (as well as to take it concurrently). The total leave taken by the mother and father combined cannot exceed the current 12 months’ statutory maternity leave entitlement and the total pay cannot exceed the current statutory maternity pay entitlement. So, for example, following the first two weeks after the birth (during which time the mother will be on compulsory maternity leave and the father may be on ordinary paternity leave), both may elect to take the following 24 weeks’ as shared leave.
In addition, the Government announced last year that the current right to unpaid parental leave will be extended from 13 to 18 weeks from March this year and that from 2015 parental leave can be taken in respect of a child up to the age of 18 years of age (as opposed to 5 as under the present regime). Why one would want to spend more time unpaid at home with a teenager, especially one’s own, is still to be explored.
These changes were in part designed to give working mothers far greater choice and flexibility when deciding how they wanted to balance their careers and the responsibility to their families and redress the inherent gender inequality in the current family leave regime.
Fast forward to 7 January 2013, when the Government’s child benefit cuts came into force. Under these cuts, a family in which either parent earns over £50,000 per year, will, via an income tax charge, see their child benefit entitlement reduced. A family in which either parent earns over £60,000 per year will effectively lose its child benefit entitlement altogether. In addition, for those still in receipt of child benefits the entitlement is being frozen until April 2014. This has given birth to fierce criticism with one think-tank labelling the Coalition government “family-bashers” and large swathes of the media arguing that the cut is a “tax on working parents” and the Government “has a problem with children”.
With this cut and the spiralling costs of childcare (the Evening Standard reported on 3 January that “some middle-class London couples spend more than half their budget on childcare costs”), it has been argued that the Government has made it more, rather than less, difficult for working mothers to balance their careers/family responsibilities and therefore it appears that the Government may have undone (at least in terms of PR) its previous good work in reforming the parental leave provisions.