Family friendly reforms and the UK general election

25 June 2024 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 4 minute read

Family leave of differing kinds and the right to request flexible working have been with us for a while, but as election day approaches, the parties are becoming increasingly creative in their ideas in order to win votes. There are many approaches to modern family friendly policies and of course, it is open to employers to go beyond the current legislation and manifesto promises and implement their own enhanced terms and schemes. Once the outcome of the election is known, employers will be better placed to anticipate the changes that are likely to be taken forward over the next Parliament. They may want to think ahead and take pre-emptive action. In the meantime, how do the three biggest parties compare?

Conservative Party

The Conservative manifesto does not include any significant new plans to improve family friendly rights. Instead, the government introduced new legislation well ahead of the election being announced. 

In December 2023, as part of its proposal for children's social care reform, the Department for Education published employer guidance for supporting kinship care (sometimes known as 'family and friends care') which involves a child being raised in the care of a family member, or family friend, who is not their parent. The Government also introduced legislation enabling new measures to support parents of premature babies, but these were not brought into effect before the dissolution of Parliament.

Several new rights were then introduced on 6 April 2024.

  • The rules for employees making flexible working requests were relaxed and making a request became a day one right.  
  • The government implemented enhanced rights for pregnant employees, or those returning from periods of maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave. Employees who fall into any of these categories will be protected in redundancy situations by the right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy where one exists. This right is already available to employees who are actually on such leave, but the change extends the length for an 'additional protected period', widening the group of employees who are given priority over other employees who are also at risk of redundancy and including pregnant women before they go on maternity leave.
  • The government also amended the rules on statutory paternity leave, for babies whose expected week of birth, or for children whose expected date of placement for adoption, or expected date of entry into Great Britain for adoption, is on or after 6 April 2024. The changes provide more flexibility to fathers and partners, including allowing them to take their leave as two separate one-week blocks at any time in the first year after the birth or adoption of the child.  
  • Finally, employees who are caring for a dependant with a long-term care need have a new right to carers leave, a statutory entitlement to one week of flexible unpaid leave per year. This is in addition to employees having a right to time off for dependants in an emergency, a dependant being a close family member or someone who depends on the employee requesting leave. 

Labour Party

The working landscape is likely to shift dramatically under a Labour government. They propose wide-ranging reforms to employment laws which they say are not fit for the modern economy. Interestingly, the anticipated extensions to statutory maternity and paternity leave do not feature in the Labour manifesto, but there are plans for other family friendly rights with an emphasis on adapting and building on the flexible working framework already in place under the Conservative government. Labour proposes to:          

  • Ensure workers can benefit from flexible working, including opportunities for flexi-time contracts and hours that better accommodate school terms where they are not currently available, by making flexible working the genuine default from day one for all workers, except where it is not reasonably feasible.
  • Within the first year of a Labour government, review the parental leave system so that it better supports working families, ensuring that parental leave is a day-one right. It is not clear from the manifesto whether the policy is aimed at unpaid parental leave or leave taken as part of a shared parental leave arrangement, but both kinds of leave currently involve a qualifying period.  
  • Strengthening protections for pregnant women by making it unlawful to dismiss a pregnant woman during her pregnancy or for six months after her return to work, except in specific circumstances.
  • Build on the legislation for unpaid carers leave which was introduced in April 2024. It has been suggested that the Labour government would introduce paid carers leave but whether they will do so remains unclear.
  • Clarify the law and entitlement on bereavement leave, introducing the right to bereavement leave for all workers.
  • Promoting a positive work-life balance for all workers by bringing in the ‘right to switch off’, so working from home does not become homes turning into 24/7 offices.   

Liberal Democrat Party                      

The Liberal Democrat Party has also revealed some creative ideas. Under the umbrella of Families, Children and Young People there is a focus on providing all parents with access to childcare that is flexible, affordable and fair and like Labour they want to introduce more flexibility and choices for parents. This includes:

  • Going beyond Labour's commitments, making all parental pay and leave a day-one right, including for adoptive parents, kinship carers and self-employed parents.
  • Doubling Statutory Maternity and Shared Parental Pay to £350 a week. The liability to offer such pay currently falls on the employer but the majority can be recouped via HMRC.
  • Increasing pay for paternity leave (currently 2 weeks) to 90% of earnings with a cap for high earners.  
  • A use-it-or-lose-it month for fathers and partners, paid at 90% of earnings, with a cap for high earners.
  • Introducing paid neo-natal care (presumably aimed at parents of premature babies, although this is not made clear).
  • Requiring large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies.
  • Subject to available funds, for all families, including self-employed parents, adoptive parents and kinship carers to be entitled to 6 weeks of use-it-or-lose-it leave for each parent paid at 90% of earnings; and 46 weeks of shared parental leave (currently 37 weeks) paid at double the current statutory rate. 

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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