“Allowing parents to split the childcare leave is good for children – and the economy,” said the government

Abolish separate maternity leave and let parents choose how they distribute a year’s leave from work, the government has been urged to do.

Couples will be able to share a 12-month leave entitlement under childcare reforms proposed by think tank Onward today.

Siobhan Baillie, the Conservative MP for Stroud who supports the proposal, said it would allow fathers to be more involved in childcare and get more unemployed parents back into the workforce.

“I think fathers want to be more involved and are becoming more involved, so many more women are out to work in equally difficult jobs,” she told The Telegraph.

She said the government must give parents “control and flexibility” by allowing them to “maximise their potential”, which is “exactly what we need at a time when there are 1.2 million vacancies and companies are looking for good people in the workforce”.

A survey of more than 1,000 parents with children under five by Onward found that 83 per cent support the policy of allowing parents to transfer 12 months’ leave flexibly between them. For example, the father may take three months, the mother nine, or both may take six months each.

Further childcare reforms proposed by Onward include simplified ‘childcare credits’ to replace schemes such as ‘free hours’ of childcare for young children which would be provided to all parents of one to four year olds. A more generous additional childcare credit will be offered to lower income families. The think tank has also called for Child Benefit to be front-loaded to allow parents to invest more in the early years of a child’s life in exchange for less support when they are older. Supply reforms such as increasing the number of childminders by streamlining regulation and getting highly qualified candidates into the early years should also be part of the government’s promise on childminders ahead of the next election, the think tank said.

Baillie said: “We have some of the highest childcare costs in the world. I cannot be comfortably on the doorstep of the next election without a very clear offer of childcare reform.”

The government is considering plans to make childcare more affordable by reducing the ratio between nursery staff and children.

However, Onward’s survey found that relaxing relationships between staff and children was the only reform with a net negative support among parents.

Adam Hawksbee, interim director of Onward, said: “When childcare costs are too high, it’s not just parents who suffer. Our economy is missing out on workers who can boost growth. And our social fabric weakens as families feel the strain. When the government moves on from the autumn declaration, the ministers must show that they are willing to take bold decisions to go for growth. A radical reform of our childcare system would be a great first step.”

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