Some have said that the Queen’s Speech was rather short. But as I listened to the list of Bills, I had cause to think it was at least one too long.
I have been seeking Parliamentary time to bring in a Private Member’s Bill on flexible parental leave – rolling together maternity and paternity entitlements to allow parents to apportion leave between themselves as they choose.
So when I heard this policy announced, my immediate response was ‘that was my idea’. But it would be churlish to be annoyed. I am, in fact, delighted that the government is to put its weight behind such a sensible and inexpensive measure that will improve the lives of many families.
Allowing parents to choose how to divide their leave will give fathers who want to stay at home for longer the chance to do so. It will also allow mothers who wish to return to the workplace sooner that opportunity without the corresponding sense of guilt women often speak of when handing over a young baby to a childminder.
We should trust families to make the best decision for themselves and their finances.
A survey of more than 2,000 mothers and mothers-to-be commissioned by Women On, an independent think tank, has shown that women overwhelmingly support changes to existing maternity leave.
The survey also showed that a majority of women plan to return, or have returned, to work within six to 12 months of the birth of their child – and a quarter will return after the child’s first birthday.
Modern mothers very often work, either through choice or necessity, and it is important that we provide a level playing field so that they can do so.
And of course, this measure will do nothing to impede those women who wish to leave work to raise their children for the longer term.