Nick Clegg says Government will consult on shared parental leave

Katy Morton
Monday, January 17, 2011

Long working hours, low income and poor quality housing are having a negative impact on parenting and harming children's development, according to a new report by think-tank Demos.

Launching the report, The Home Front , Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg argued that fathers should get up to ten months in parental leave and said that the Government would hold a consultation on flexible, shared parental leave to be introduced in 2015.

He also confirmed that the Government would go ahead with plans proposed by Harriet Harman under the previous Labour government. This means that from April, if a mother returns to work early during her maternity leave after 20 weeks, the father will be able to take over the mother's leave and be entitled to statutory pay of £125 a week, for 26 weeks.

The Demos survey of more than 1,000 parents found that a third of fathers in the UK work more than 48 hours per week, compared with a quarter of men without children, and that 12 per cent of fathers work more than 60 hours a week.

The number of working mothers has risen, with 41 per cent of mothers in a couple working part-time, and 28 per cent of lone mothers working full-time.

Of the parents surveyed, the majority said they felt money was their biggest obstacle. Howeve,r they felt guilty about working so much, a feeling that got worse as their children grew older.

According to Demos, the imbalance between working long hours and living on very low incomes is making it more difficult for poorer parents to enforce rules, as many are left feeling stressed, tired and less confident in their parenting abilities.

Added to this pressure is the lack of space in the home, says Demos. The average room size in the UK is decreasing, leading to more children living in overcrowded housing.

Dr Maggie Atkinson (pictured), children’s commissioner for England, whose office funded the research, said, ‘We know that a combination of loving homes and clear boundary setting are what children themselves want. Parents from all social backgrounds provide love. But we have to look at ways to support those who because of low incomes have added burdens such as financial pressure and time restrictions.’

Recommendations outlined in the report include:

•    Applying the early intervention principle beyond the early years by developing a second tier of screening for primary school children.
•    Integrating health visiting with local children’s and health services. For example getting health visitors to register parents for Sure Start on their first visit to a new family.
•    Ensuring Sure Start centres continue to provide a universal service to all families.
•    Making services aimed at fathers common place.
•    Introducing an equal system of parental leave for mothers and fathers with an element of transferability
•    Boosting the capacity of organisations to offer flexible work.
•    Broadening the health visitor role to make health visitors a universal frontline parenting support service. This would mean health visitors signposting parents to early years services such as Sure Start, and working closely with children’s centre staff and outreach workers.
•    Developing a parenting ‘booster’ class aimed at parents when their children first start primary school.
•    Setting a standard for reliable parenting information and advice, with funding made available to support third sector organisations and online parenting forums to deliver information of effective parenting.

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