Abolish separate maternity and paternity leave and allow parents to choose how they divide a year’s leave from work, the Government has been urged.
Couples would be able to split a 12-month leave entitlement under the childcare reforms proposed by the think tank Onward today.
Siobhan Baillie, the Conservative MP for Stroud who is backing the proposal, said it would allow fathers to be more involved in childcare and get more unemployed parents back into the workforce.
“I think dads want to be more involved and are being more involved so many more women are out to work in equally difficult jobs,” she told The Telegraph.
She said the Government needs to give parents “control and flexibility” by allowing them to “maximise their potential” which is “exactly what we need at the moment when there’s 1.2 million vacancies and businesses are scrambling for good people in their workforce.”
A survey of more than 1,000 parents with children under five by Onward found that 83 per cent support the policy to allow parents to transfer 12 months of leave flexibly between themselves. For example, the father could take three months, the mother nine, or both could take six months each.
Further childcare reforms proposed by Onward include simplified “childcare credits” to replace schemes such as “free hours” of childcare for young children that would be provided for all parents of one to four year olds. A more generous additional childcare credit would be offered to families on lower incomes. The think tank has also called for child benefits to be front loaded to allow parents to invest more in the early years of a child’s life in exchange for less support when they are older. Supply side reforms like boosting childminder numbers by streamlining regulation and getting high-skilled graduates into the early years workforce should also be part of the Government’s childcare pledge ahead of the next election, the think tank said.
Ms Baillie said: “We have some of the highest childcare costs in the world. I cannot be on doorsteps at the next election comfortably without a very clear offer on childcare reform.”
The Government is considering plans to make childcare more affordable by reducing the ratio of nursery staff to children.
However, Onward’s survey found that relaxing staff to child ratios was the only reform with a net negative support among parents.
Adam Hawksbee, interim director of Onward, said: “When childcare costs are too high, it’s not only parents who suffer. Our economy misses out on workers that could be boosting growth. And our social fabric is weakened as families feel the strain. As the Government moves on from the Autumn Statement, ministers need to show they are willing to take bold decisions to go for growth. Radically reforming our childcare system would be a great first step.”