At the opening of the Conservative party conference last week, Chancellor George Osborne announced the government’s intention to extend the current shared parental leave (SPL) system, which allows parents to share leave and statutory parental pay, to grandparents. This would only benefit working grandparents, but would allow the 52 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks’ statutory shared parental pay to be shared with grandparents as well as a child’s mother and father. The Conservatives have stated that the policy will particularly benefit single mothers who, without a partner to share leave with, will now be able to do so with one of their child’s grandparents.
It is interesting to see a right which has only recently come into existence (in April this year), already being expanded to cover a further category of employees who may be involved in regular childcare. Whether it in fact greatly expands the entitlement is questionable; with average ages for first time parents continuing to go higher, it may be that fewer new grandparents in 2015 are still working than their counterparts were 20 years ago.
However, what is often overlooked by the media commentary on SPL is those employees who are either becoming fathers (or now, grandparents), but who do not qualify for SPL. In order for a male employee to be eligible for SPL, the child’s mother must be entitled to statutory maternity leave (and therefore working). This means that male staff whose partners are students or stay-at-home mums will not qualify for this entitlement. Perhaps this is to encourage both parents to be economically active, but the consequence appears to be that male employees will now fall into two groups in relation to this right: the “haves” and the “have nots”. Only time will tell whether the government will be challenged in this regard, or whether cultural shifts will ultimately lead to male employees being given a stand-alone and equal entitlement to extended leave upon becoming a parent.