Government shelves ‘grandparental leave’ reforms

Experts welcome breathing space as policy put on hold until after review of shared parental leave

The government has put its plans to introduce grandparental leave, a landmark proposal of David Cameron’s 2015 government, which was slated to be launched this year, on hold.

People Management understands that the plans, which would have extended shared parental leave (SPL) to grandparents, have been temporarily put to one side while the government carries out an evaluation of the SPL policy in general. The findings of this evaluation are expected to be published early next year.

Plans to roll out leave to grandparents were announced by then-chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2015, with the intention of implementing the policy by 2018. A consultation on the extension was due to launch in May 2016. 

“In many families, grandparents play a central role in caring for their grandchildren and helping to keep down the costs of childcare,” Osborne told the Mail on Sunday at the time. “Increasing numbers of grandparents, however, also want to remain in work themselves.”

CIPD research, published in 2016, revealed that employers had varied views about the proposals. Just over a quarter (27 per cent) felt it was a good idea as many mothers relied on grandparents for childcare when they first returned following maternity leave, but a similar proportion (25 per cent) felt the proposed extension was a step too far. 

“Based on this evidence, the CIPD believes the government should think carefully before extending SPL to grandparents and should concentrate in the more immediate term on tackling the barriers to greater uptake of SPL by working mums and dads,” said Rachel Suff, senior employment relations adviser at the CIPD. 

However, she added: “With more and more people taking on caring responsibilities while working and people living longer, grandparents are likely to become a real lifeline for many people with children. So while there are more pressing priorities with SPL, it shouldn’t be shelved for too long or we won’t be able to keep up with the evolving demands of the labour market.”

Research cited by the government suggested that nearly two million people had given up work, reduced their hours or taken time off to provide childcare for their grandchildren. Of those who said they had never taken time off to look after a grandchild under the age of 16, one in 10 said they had their request turned down by their employer or felt they were unable to even ask. 

The government also said more than half of mothers count on grandparents for childcare when they first return from maternity leave.

Labour’s then-deputy leader, Harriet Harman, had put forward similar proposals in April 2015. Her plans would have seen grandparents able to claim parental leave, which entitles employees with at least one year of service to 18 unpaid weeks of leave per child up until that child’s 18th birthday. 

SPL, which allows parents to split 50 weeks of leave between them following the birth of a child, was launched in April 2015. 

However, the policy has been heavily criticised after figures suggested that uptake had been much lower than hoped for. A freedom of information request obtained by People Management last June revealed that only 7,100 men received shared parental pay in the 2016-17 tax year, compared with 221,000 who received statutory paternity pay.

In February, the government announced its 'Share the joy' campaign to encourage more parents to take SPL, revealing that take-up could be as low as 2 per cent of eligible couples. Meanwhile, research by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found that less than half (49 per cent) of people were aware the policy existed, while a mere 8 per cent felt they knew a lot about the policy. 

More recent research, undertaken by the government’s Behavioural Insights Team and published by the Government Equalities Office, revealed that “parents often lack a sound understanding of SPL eligibility rules”, with some thinking it was at their employer’s discretion rather than a legal entitlement. 

“While the government reviews SPL, it is right that it focuses on how it might be improved before it considers extending it,” Jonathan Swan, head of research at Working Families, told People Management. “Making SPL a day one right, extending it to self employed parents, allowing fathers made redundant to retain their SPL and permitting parents to opt for SPL after the death of their child are all improvements we think are vital.

“It's important to ensure SPL is well understood and working well in order to provide the best possible foundation for any future extension.”

The grandparental leave proposals would have extended statutory shared parental pay to grandparents too. The current rate is £140.98 a week or 90 per cent of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, for 37 weeks.