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Maria Brett outlines Scottish government policy on childcare, flexible working and Shared Parental Leave.
For a new parent battling sleepless nights, issues surrounding childcare and flexible working can seem quite complex, making it difficult to decide the best way forward for both your child and your career. To help simplify matters, we’ve put together an overview of policy regarding shared parental leave, funded childcare and flexible working in Scotland.
Shared Parental Leave
Shared Parental Leave offers parents flexibility when it comes to taking time off work in the first year after birth or adoption. Up to 50 weeks of parental leave can be taken, with up to 37 of those weeks paid. Eligible parents can choose to take time together or take turns in staying home with their child.
Samantha Pringle, head of research at Fathers Network Scotland, commented: “Shared Parental Leave itself has some shortcomings as a policy – specifically that it requires mums to share existing maternity leave rather than offering the well-funded, father-specific, Nordic-style leave we would favour.”
Shared Parental Leave is not a devolved issue and therefore policy is decided at UK level. The Scottish Government is keen to encourage shared leave with a Shared Parenting Cross-Party Group regularly meeting to ‘identify, examine and promote policy and practice that supports parents in sharing parenting responsibilities’.
Since August 2014 all three and four year olds in Scotland have been entitled to up to 600 hours of free early learning childcare, equating to around 16 hours per week during term time. This can be obtained from an approved childcare provider in a council nursery, private nursery or childminder setting. Children who are looked after or come from low income families can benefit from up to 600 hours of early learning childcare from the age of two.
The Scottish Government has pledged to increase the number of hours offered to pre-schoolers to 1,140 per year by 2020 in a bid to help support working families and make it easier for parents to return to work. This would bring Scotland in line with the number of hours offered by the government in England and Wales. However, an increase in the amount of free childcare offered to parents means the number of childcare providers and infrastructure needs to be expanded in order to cope with higher demand.
Nikki Slowey, joint programme director of Family Friendly Working Scotland, welcomes the increase in funding, but believes more flexibility is needed. “The Scottish Government’s forthcoming expansion of free early learning and childcare will significantly help many families to both access work or increase their working hours,” said Slowey. “The key thing is for parents to have flexibility in how they access childcare to align with their working patterns. This will be integral to its success. For example, consideration needs to be given to childcare during school holidays and after school as the working patterns of most working parents extends beyond school days and hours.”
The Scottish government has pledged ‘innovative models of delivery’ when the additional hours scheme rolls in and it is yet to be seen whether this will include services outside of regular school hours.
“Childcare is, however, not the only solution and we believe that employers can play a huge role by offering flexible working,” added Slowey. “Increasing good quality flexible working opportunities for parents – and non-parents – is a key part of building a stronger and fairer economy and society which we can all benefit from.”
Again, employment law is a UK Government issue, but the Scottish Government does encourage employers to utilise flexible working patterns in order to help working parents and increase productivity across businesses. The Fair Work Convention advises the Scottish Government on the real living wage, zero hours contracts, flexible working and other issues that make work fairer and more secure for all staff, including working parents. The related Scottish Business Pledge set up by the Scottish Government offers companies advice and assistance to promote flexible working and increase uptake.
The Workforce Engagement section of the Pledge states: ‘By embracing a flexible and family friendly working culture, business can build economic success through retaining employees whilst improving the lives of working families.’
“The Scottish Government’s Fair Work agenda is encouraging as it shows a commitment to encouraging flexible working,” said Slowey. “At Family Friendly Working Scotland we help employers see the business benefits of flexible working which include a less stressed, more focused and ultimately more productive workforce and we’re grateful the Scottish Government continues to support us do this.”
Samantha Pringle agrees. “From a policy perspective we receive government funding from the Families Directorate to ensure family services are father friendly and from Fair Work to create work places which are family friendly,” she said. “We believe this is good practice for a Government to do – ensuring both workplaces and children and family services are accessible to dads and mums.”
*This article is written by Maria Brett.