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Parental reform announcement allows new mums to balance legal careers with actual babies

Posted by: Laurence Simons 15/11/12

Nick Clegg news now, and deputy prime minister and sad-faced man Nick Clegg has finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally, finally done something useful. Finally.

This week Clegg announced a radical reform to parental leave in the UK, a move that will allow parents to split the 12 months of maternity leave between them. Basically, they can split their sweet, sweet maternity/paternity leave however they wish, as long as it's on the proviso that the mother takes the first fortnight following the birth out to have a nice cup of tea and a rest and put her feet up. The change will come into effect in 2015, so hold off on the baby-making for a minute until then.

But this is good news for those who want to form i. a tiny version of themselves to roam the earth and demand they are regularly fed pureed swede and ii. have a career, too, as it allows mothers to tip the balance of that set of scales - one side marked 'family', one side marked 'career' - that holds off so many from having either babies or decent jobs. Basically: hey lawyers, here is a law for you.

"The problem comes down to a whole range of clapped-out rules and arrangements," the deputy prime minister Clegged, "whether that's the balance between maternity and paternity leave, or the childcare that's available, or the way our tax and welfare systems don't fully reward part-time work.

"[These] arrangements assume that families are still composed of one bread winner and one homemaker - mum in the kitchen, dad in the office. Even though the reality is that in many families both parents work, often juggling busy lives, often working part-time, often without relatives or friends close by who can help out."

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), also welcomed the change, but had to take off his glasses and wipe them in astonishment at the announcement that encouraged a flexible, practical solution, rather than the expected version of parental leave reform which many experts foresaw simply allowing more paternity leave for expectant dads, to help them deal with all the mopping up of spills and shushing of screams that comes with having a tiny little baby about the place.

"We agree this is not just a question of equality, but also of economic necessity. IoD members want to be accommodating to their staff, and to work with mothers and fathers in sharing leave after they have had a child," he said. "Being able to split leave flexibly will be attractive to parents, but will inevitably increase uncertainty for employers, who must be given suitable notice beforehand.