The chancellor is getting the hang of claiming the political centre for himself. Working grandparents will now be able to share statutory parental leave and pay, George Osborne announced at the Conservative conference in Manchester yesterday, six months after dads were finally allowed to share time off.
The policy, which allows grandparents to share in the 52 weeks of leave and 39 weeks of pay, was shamelessly nicked from Labour, whose former deputy leader Harriet Harman proposed it in a ‘women’s manifesto’ before the General Election earlier this year. Anyone would think Osborne has his eye on being prime minister when David Cameron steps down.
But political machinations aside, this looks like good news for parents who struggle to afford private childcare – particularly single ones. Osborne said half of all mothers get help from grandparents when they first return to work after having a baby, but that many would rather stay in work themselves.
‘Research shows two million grandparents have either given up a job, reduced their hours or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren,’ he said. ‘Allowing them instead to share leave with their children will keep thousands more in the workplace, which is good for our economy.’
Nonetheless, the government needs to take care this doesn’t backfire as businesses, especially small ones, struggle with the red tape that comes with new regulations. The British Chambers of Commerce was especially unimpressed.
‘Another change to parental leave policy is the last thing businesses need after a decade of upheaval. The last set of changes hasn't even bedded in yet, and many firms will be astonished that the government has decided to intervene yet again,’ its executive director Dr Adam Marshall said.
‘Most employers are sympathetic when parents or grandparents need flexibility to help with caring duties, and many go out of their way to accommodate affected staff. But adding new legislation - and increasing the administrative headache and uncertainty businesses already face - is not the way to go.’
Asserting most companies are sympathetic is not the same, though, as evidence they actually let grandparents take time off to help care for children. Sometimes businesses need a legislative stick to move them along, even if it is often a very ham-handed way of effecting change.