The Conservative Government in the United Kingdom has extended its policy for parental leave to include working grandparents, starting in October 2015. The 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of statutory parental pay can now be shared across generations.
The policy change was instituted following government research which indicated that more than half of mothers in the UK rely on grandparents in order to return to work. Currently 60% of working grandparents provide some form of care and a total of 2 million have chosen to work less, take unpaid time off work or leave work entirely to provide care.
The policy captured political support at both ends of the spectrum in the UK, and may prove attractive to other governments as well. One key driver behind extending shared parental leave is that it will give families more flexibility in planning their work, allowing a greater proportion of the labour force to remain employed.
Single mothers are likely to be the greatest beneficiaries, but British grandparents have been struggling too. Britons were identified in one study to be the least prepared for retirement in the world; half are not saving enough for retirement and 20% are not at all. This explains why grandparents in the UK are twice more likely to be in employment than counterparts in Europe.
Is this policy change predominantly underpinned by economic logic, or is the notion of childcare changing in a culture where family is framed in more nuclear terms? Could, or should, more potential caregivers be included in parental leave? How might that influence relationships across families and communities?
It's also interesting to ask what cultural pressures might inform how the new law is applied. There is still some stigma attached to taking parental leave, particularly for men. What gender, inter-generational and economic changes will grandparental leave bring?
Image credit: Flickr / Conor Ogle
UK Government (October, 2015) Chancellor announces major new extension of shared parental leave and pay to working grandparents
BBC (October, 2015) Working grandparents to share parental leave and pay
Independent (March, 2013) Grandparents can’t solve everything