Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice
7 December 2000 - After much leaking to the press, the Green Paper on
"Work and Parents: Competitiveness and Choice" has been released.
Stephen Byers said:
"Working patterns have changed dramatically over the last 25 years.
But help for working parents has largely gone unchanged. Too many
parents are struggling under the heavy demands of coping with
children and trying to hold down a job.
"I am convinced that we need to do more to help them. Simply doing
nothing is not an option.
"As standards of living improve, quality of life becomes an issue for
"I don't want mothers to drop out of the labour market because they
feel they don't have enough support or flexibility. We need to
retain their valuable skills and experience.
"We also need to answer the calls from fathers who can't afford to
take time off to be with their new baby."
The Green Paper sets out a number of options based on a comprehensive review of work and parents by
the UK Government. Responses are invited over the next three months. The main options are:
* 2 weeks paid paternity leave for fathers;
* a lengthening of the period during which maternity leave is paid to 6 months;
* an extention of unpaid maternity leave so that a mother could stay at home for
upto 1 year;
* the sharing of any increase on the existing unpaid maternity leave period equally
between mother and father;
* an increase in the flat rate for maternity pay - at present £60.20 per
* allowing adoptive parents - male or female - to take paid
leave in the same way as maternity leave when a child is adopted;
* increasing the parental leave available to parents of
disabled children beyond the present 13 weeks.
There are also a number of options regarding flexible working
involving either legislation or incentives to businesses. These include:
* Allowing women returning early from maternity leave to
work reduced hours for the remaining period;
* offering fathers the right also to work reduced hours until the end of
* allowing both parents a right of opting for reduced work hours for as
long as they wish after the end of the maternity leave period;
* but providing all employers a right to refuse requests to work reduced
hours if they would harm the business;
* an exemption for employers with a determined number of employees from
granting requests to work reduced hours, excepting those from mothers for
a short time;
* introduction of a kitemark for businesses committed to a suitable code
that could be removed if flexible working opportunities were removed. This would be
* a challenge fund for small businesses to cover some of the initial costs of providing more flexible working
Stephen Byers went to say:
"But the concerns of business cannot be ignored, particularly the
small firms which energise our economy. Our proposals take these
concerns into account. They will also provide more help for business
partly by simplifying existing legislation, by providing more
targeted support and better advice and guidance. "I don't believe we
need to make a choice between either helping families or helping
businesses. The right policies will not only support parents but
also enable business to recruit and retain skilled staff thereby
increasing productivity and helping the UK to remain competitive.
"It's not possible to take away all the strains from being a busy
working parent but we do need a much more flexible culture. We need
to know what working parents and employers would find most useful so
that we can create a better balance.
"A society where being a good parent and good employee are not in
conflict is a prize for us all and one which I believe we can
"This is a real step along the path towards achieving a fair and
lasting deal for parents working in a modern society."
Further measures proposed to make life easier for businesses include:
* allowing more small-and-medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to qualify
for compensation in respect of the money they pay out in
* encouragement by the Inland Revenue for SMEs to make use of their right to seek
maternity payments in advance, hence assisting cash flow problems;
* more help from the Employment Service and private recruitment agencies to manage
absences on parental leave;
* improved guidance and advice for employers including through the
internet and information packs.
According to the Minister for Women, Margaret Jay:
"It is vital that people can fulfil their potential both as employees
and parents. By consulting and therefore getting the measures we
introduce right, we will benefit everyone - families and business
alike. Women now make up almost half of the workforce, so
maintaining their attachment to the labour market is crucial to the
economic success of our country.
"Employers are increasingly realising the competitive edge to be
gained from offering flexible work packages - savings of millions in
recruitment and retention, increased loyalty and reduction of
sickness and absenteeism. This is a package for families and strong
family life and it is a package for successful business."