December 7, 2015

Granny Leave is coming!

Currently parents can request shared parental leave, unpaid parental leave, flexible working or emergency unpaid leave to deal with childcare issues. But what’s the situation for grandparents?

Recently, a Wigan grandmother was allegedly sacked by text after she told her bosses she couldn’t work Saturdays.  Apparently she looked after her grandchildren.

The Sports Direct warehouse worker claimed she regularly worked more than 50 hours per week on a zero hours’ contract. It seems unlikely matters will proceed to an employment tribunal. However, Sports Direct attracted massive hostile publicity.

With the abolition of the mandatory retirement age, more and more people are working into their late sixties and beyond. Research also shows that more than half of mothers rely on grandparents for childcare. This is not just when they first go back to work after maternity leave. Over 60% of working age grandparents provide some childcare for grandchildren aged under 16.

Two million grandparents have given up a job, reduced their hours or taken time off work to look after their grandchildren. One in ten working grandparents say they have never taken time off work to care for grandchildren. This was either because they had been refused time off or simply felt unable to ask.

New Government plans

On the 5th October 2015 the Chancellor, George Osborne, made an announcement at the Conservative Party Conference. He plans to extend existing Shared Parental Leave provisions to grandparents.  His plans, which will be the subject of consultation, potentially enable grandparents to take paid time off for childcare. His aim is to increase flexibility and choice in parental leave arrangements. At the same time this could support working parents with childcare costs during a child’s first year.

Additional flexibility around sharing maternity leave and pay is expected to help parents return to work more quickly. Over half of mothers turn to grandparents for childcare when they first go back to work.  The government believes their plan will particularly help single mothers without a partner with whom to share responsibilities. It will also assist in situations where both parents are keen to return to work early.

The proposal is that parents and grandparents will be able to divide statutory shared parental leave and pay between them (currently £139.58 a week or 90 per cent of average weekly earnings). The government is aiming to implement the policy by 2018 and has promised to keep the rules simple.

Current situation

In the meantime, the relaxation of statutory flexible working provisions means that employers already face requests from grandparents to adjust their working hours. Likewise, grandparents may already legitimately seek emergency dependant care leave.

Of course, the government has also promised to bring forward the roll-out of 30 hours of free weekly childcare for pre-school children. And it is due to replace existing childcare voucher schemes with a new tax-free childcare allowance from 2017.

Nevertheless it seems that working grandparents will be encouraged to play an increasing role in early years’ care for their grandchildren.

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By Donna Chadbone and Mike Fitzsimmons

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