Nick Clegg: New parental leave rules fit the lives of modern families

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IN those chaotic first few days after your child is born, every parent looks at their newborn and thinks to themselves “life will never be the same again”.

From day one you want to do everything you can to give your child the best start in life.

It’s the most natural feeling in the world. And how you do 
it is, bluntly, your business.

I have never believed that government should preach 
to families about how to run their lives.

But I do believe we need to make more of your choices possible. In modern Britain families come in every shape and size, often managing extraordinarily busy routines.

It isn’t easy to juggle the responsibilities of work and home and parents need the freedom and flexibility to do it however suits them best.

So I am proud that the coalition Government is introducing shared parental leave for new parents – a flagship Liberal Democrat policy.

Many of you will have experienced the old system. After a child was born, fathers got two weeks off for paternity leave and mothers could take up to a year.

It was always assumed that this is what families wanted and needed: women staying at home to care for the children, while men go out to work and bring home a wage.

But why should this still automatically be assumed? What about the households where it makes more sense for mothers to go back to work earlier and for fathers to stay at home? And what about the many parents who want to share these traditional roles between them to better fit the realities and needs of their family?

The point is it shouldn’t be up to government to decide how you split your time. It should be up to you.

So under the new rules, from April 2015, new parents will be able to carve up the leave they are entitled to, much more flexibly.

If mothers want to return to their job sooner or go back to work for a particular project, they’ll be able to do so, with fathers staying at home. Parents will even be able to take off chunks of time together, if that’s what they want.

And this isn’t just about delivering a fairer society. It’s about building a stronger economy too.

Giving people the opportunity to work flexibly makes them more motivated and productive, not less.

We’ve talked to business to make sure the new system is simple and easy to administer. We need to make sure we don’t create an unnecessary burden, particularly for small businesses.

So we’ve taken on board businesses’ concerns to make sure we get the detail right and I’m delighted that, over the last few days, the response to the changes has been overwhelmingly positive.

We’ve worked hard to make sure everyone can understand and use these new leave arrangements when they need to.

And many modern businesses already recognise the benefits flexible working can bring to their organisation.

They understand that shared parental leave will help boost the pool of skills and diverse talent they have available to them, as well as ensure they can hold on to the hard-working and committed staff they need to compete successfully and grow their business.

How families use these new rights is, of course, up to them. Every household is different. But these are important changes for all of us.

Shared parental leave will make Britain a place where fewer women feel like they have to choose between their family and their career. It will ensure that all career options will be open to women after pregnancy.

Over time there will be less stigma facing the men who want to stay at home. They will be able to get the extra time they want to spend with their children.

Finally: Britain’s working practices will be in line with the needs, and choices, of our modern families.

It’s about time too. The freedom and flexibility shared parental leave will give us is good for business, great for our economy and the right thing to do for Britain’s families.

• Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam.