Productive parents

Many working parents struggle to find a balance between family life and work. Parents have to nurture and encourage their children, while also maintaining the skills and capability modern careers require. Too often policy presents these parents with a narrow range of options and either/or choices, which can damage both family life and their chances in the labour market. Government should instead provide parents with the financial means to organise their lives flexibly and give them room to choose what is best for them.

In Productive parents, Reform puts forward cost-effective reforms to existing maternity pay that make it more flexible and fairer. This would allow parents to mix and match parenting and working in ways that fit their own circumstances.

Current arrangements for parental leave represent a “double crunch” for poor families. While professionals and managers get gold plated maternity benefits and can afford time off, those in casual and low skilled jobs receive the least pay and take the least maternity leave. The lion’s share of the almost £2 billion spent on maternity pay goes to high earners. A banker earning £75,000 is likely to take over six months leave and would receive over £10,440 in maternity pay compared to a full time working mother on the minimum wage receiving £4,553. A part time working mother on £5,000 may well only take three months leave and would receive only £2,104.

Fathers are largely excluded from today’s leave arrangements, with Britain having one of the most old fashioned systems in the developed world. Yet evidence suggests that families are stronger and fathers are more likely to read to children when they take paternity leave. In the current system fathers are treated as at best an irrelevance.

This antiquated system not only creates significant costs for businesses, in red tape and uncertainty, but creates an either/or choice on whether to work or stay at home. Parents on leave are prevented from staying in touch with the workplace or doing occasional shifts and casual work – with the exception of a small number of prescribed “keep in touch” days. Politicians have favoured gimmicks over effective reform. The much trumpeted increase in childcare places masks a huge creep in regulation, a reduction in informal availability and a sharp rise in prices.

Reform recommends a new approach that rebalances maternity pay towards low income families, makes it available to fathers and gives freedom over parental leave. It advocates a much more flexible approach to the workplace by taking employers out of the various state payment schemes and instead allowing employees to work flexibly during the first year – keeping in touch with the workplace as much as they like. And in a time when public finances are tight, these changes could be undertaken within current levels of expenditure, or even with reduced expenditure, and unnecessary bureaucracy abandoned.



Dear Reform I have read with great interest your proposals for a more flexible and fairer parental leave system. However, I do feel that your ideas are formed from a perception that the parents would want to work for a company that wouldn’t give this kind of flexibility. We are working towards an entire mind-shift for parents by giving them options that would give them the power when choosing to return to the workplace. I believe my thoughts are clearly laid out on a recent post on our website and I would welcome your input

Steve Pritchard, HireMyParents