27 June 2013
In its report on the Children and Families Bill, which is currently passing through parliament, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has called on the government to make public the evidence it has to show that the UK cannot afford the most effective shared parental leave plan.
As the Institute of Employment Rights highlighted when the Bill was introduced, original proposals described in the government’s Modern Workplaces consultation to provide four weeks of paid shared parental leave each for mothers and fathers on a “use it or lose it” basis have been weakened so that parents will be forced to distribute parental leave between them in weekly blocks.
The JCHR pointed out that the government’s own impact assessment referred to international evidence showing that “use it or lose it” parental leave is much more effective in creating equality between men and women when it comes to childcare responsibilities and work. Yet, the government chose to ignore this evidence and weaken the law by taking an approach shared parental leave that will likely fail to provide as significant an improvement in parental equality and equality in the workplace.
The government is obliged to increase equality between mothers and fathers as part of Article 18(1) in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The JCHR notes that the Children and Families Bill represents “progress towards … the obligation … to take steps to ensure recognition of the principle of common responsibility for parenting”, as part of the UNCRC. However, it questioned the government on why it had gone for a weaker law than that which has been proven to meet such aims. The government’s excuse was that the “weak state of the economy” makes it too dangerous to implement four weeks of “use it or lose it” parental leave for each parent at the moment.
“We … recommend that the Government ascertain and make publicly available its best estimate of the cost to employers, and particularly small businesses, of introducing four weeks of paid paternity leave reserved for the father on a “use it or lose it” basis,” the JHRC stated.
It also suggested that the take-up of parental leave by fathers should be reviewed annually.