Outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to put in place a system where parents of premature babies could be allowed one week of paid leave for every week their baby is in hospital.
Ms May said “that its not fair and its not right,” that some parents have to return to work while their baby is still in hospital. As well as discussing the “unimaginable stress” of parents who had to resume working before their new born child was even out of the hospital.
She says she wishes to ease this burden by issuing a new plan which ensures this time becomes a “bit easier for parents whose babies need to spend a prolonged period in neonatal care.”
This consultation will focus on improving the current parental leave laws which were introduced in 2015.
As it currently stands, statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks with a mandatory two weeks to be taken off after the baby is born. However, as maternity leave automatically begins the day after the birth of a premature child, this could see mothers return to work before the baby is released from the hospital.
Similarly, paid paternity leave only lasts a maximum of two weeks.
However, shared parental leave is 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay to be split between the parents.
The Prime Minister suggested that parental duties were split unfairly between mothers and fathers, stating that “too often, it is still mothers, not fathers, who shoulder the burden of childcare.”
Bliss, a charity supporting sick and premature babies, have also campaigned for greater support for parents by giving parents an extra paid week off work for every week their baby is in neonatal care.
In their 2019 survey, Bliss report that 66 per cent of dads and partners had to return to work while their baby was still receiving specialist neonatal care. Additionally, 36 per cent of dads resorted to being signed off sick in order to spend time with their baby on the neonatal unit.
Furthermore, 77 per cent of parents felt like their parental leave was not long enough. Half of the parents surveyed would have liked to take more parental leave but could not afford to take any more time off.
Penny Mordaunt, minister for women and equalities, criticised this by saying:
Fathers should not have to rely on annual and unpaid leave if they want to be involved in the first months of their child’s life.
Emily Holzhausen OBE, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK, was more critical of the prime minister’s plans:
It is incredibly disappointing that, only 17 days after the Government reaffirmed its commitment to consulting on care leave for the millions of people in this country juggling work and care for a loved one, this has not been included in the consultation on leave entitlements today.
She has failed to account for millions of families caring for older or disabled relatives, and the fact that 2.6 million people – many of them women – have given up work to care for a loved one, enduring devastating financial consequences as a result and facing huge difficulties returning to work.
With 1 in 7 of the UK workforce now juggling their job and caring responsibilities, the next Prime Minister must commit to introducing better workplace rights for carers. By providing a right of at least five to ten days of paid care leave, as well as flexible working from day one of starting a job, businesses not only see better retention and productivity but also support carers to stay in work.
The survey by Bliss took place in 2019 and the results were collated from the responses of 700 parents.