The deputy prime minster, Nick Clegg, announced that fathers and new mothers will be allowed to share parental leave for up to a year by April 2015.
A form of shared parental leave has been in place since April 2011, but the new measures announced today will extend this significantly.
Currently, fathers are only able to take up to six months leave once the baby is 20 weeks old, and this must be taken in a single block.
Mr Clegg said the rights would allow fathers the option to stay at home while preventing mothers from having to choose between career and child.
Shared parental leave
Under the proposals, both parents will be allowed to share parental leave up to 52 weeks, excluding the first two weeks after birth for the mother’s recovery.
Unlike the current rules, parents will be allowed to take leave multiple times over the course of the year, rather than in one single block.
However, all leave will need to be agreed with employers in advance.
The deputy PM said: “Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby.
“They should be supported by their employers, rather than being made to feel less employable or under pressure to take unchallenging jobs.”
‘Nightmare’ for employers
The Institute of Directors said the logistics of the proposal would be a “nightmare” for employers and causing a heavy burden on small businesses.
Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said the policy needs to be backed up with better pay.
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary said: “The government’s own estimates suggest that just 1 in 20 dads would be able to afford to take shared parental leave if it was paid at the current statutory rate of just £137 a week.”
Similarly, Citizens Advice highlighted the cost of living dilemma for parents taking leave by criticising the Universal Credit changes to childcare support.
Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive said: “Despite today’s news, Universal Credit will make it harder for many new parents on low incomes will find it harder to return to work after the birth of their child.
“The lower rate of support under Universal will mean that for some, it is impossible to make extra hours of work pay due to the increased cost of childcare.”