What happened to Grandparental leave?

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Posted:
Aug 20 2018

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It formed part of Labour’s social reform manifesto in the run up to the 2015 election, and was championed by David Cameron when the Conservatives came to power later that year, but the government recently announced that it was shelving its plans for Grandparental Leave.

With more than half of UK mothers relying on care from grandparents when they return to work following maternity leave, we examine the reasoning behind the sudden about-turn on this popular policy:

What is Grandparental Leave?

Essentially, grandparental leave would have extended the current shared parental leave (SPL) provision to a new child’s grandparents, allowing parents to flexibly use their leave allowance depending on their individual family circumstances.

SPL is available to couples where one of the parents qualifies for maternity leave and/or statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. It is also available to those who adopt or have a child through a surrogate. Employees must have started working for their employer before their pregnancy, and earn at least the lower earnings limit (currently £113 a week). Those who are self-employed, or agency or casual workers do not qualify.

Crucially, if plans for grandparental leave ever do go ahead in the future, it is assumed that working grandparents would also have to meet these conditions to ensure that they qualify for SPL alongside their other family members.

When would it have been taken?

All shared parental leave has to be taken within a baby’s first year. One of the stated attractions of SPL is that parents can be on leave together, for up to six months. Alternatively, parents can take leave separately, and in up to three blocks interspersed with periods of work – if their employer agrees. Obviously, with grandparents added into the mix, it may have been very attractive for say, a mother and grandmother to share the care of a child together for those first early days.

Why was it suggested?

With increasing numbers of people taking on caring responsibilities whilst still in employment, and ever-growing life expectancy statistics, grandparents are often a real lifeline to family members with young children. With house prices at an all-time high, wages unlikely to rise significantly any time soon, and the often crippling cost of childcare, the financial pressure that comes with having a baby can be overwhelming for many couples.

Current SPL pay for eligible parents comes in at just £145.18 a week, so it is easy to see how attractive grandparental leave could be for those managing tight budgets on maternity or normal SPL. The general perception is that grandparents will perhaps have fewer financial commitments by this stage of life, and are therefore less likely to be adversely affected by receiving statutory SPL pay for a period of time.

Was anyone against it?

For many UK employers, this pause on grandparental leave will certainly come as something of a relief – a survey carried out by the CIPD in 2016 found that just 27% of companies felt that the leave was a good idea, with a similar proportion thinking that plans had gone too far.

With Brexit also looming on the horizon, the general view is that the government are trying to give businesses some breathing space away from more regulations and requirements whilst they try to refine the current SPL offering.

Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who championed SPL in its infancy, also voiced concerns that grandparental leave could be detrimental to father’s during the first year of a child’s life.

When has it been shelved?

The original aim was to have had the new policy implemented by early 2018, but the government recently announced that it had shelved the plans completely whilst it carries out a wider review of the entire SPL policy. Three years on from its introduction, various sources have estimated that take-up of the right is as low as 2% amongst all eligible couples.

What other leave options are available to grandparents?

Sadly, not a great deal at the moment. As an employee, you are legally entitled to time off for dependents (which includes grandchildren), but for how long, and at what rate of pay (if any!), is at company discretion.

Other options can include reducing to part-time working, taking unpaid leave for a set period of time if possible, or even giving up work altogether if financial restraints allow.


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