Rachael Saunders: Should shared parental leave be extended to grandparents?

rachael saunders

Extending parental leave to grandparents is an interesting shift in government policy. It acknowledges the importance of all generations in family life, and the role that grandparents already play. A strategic response to our ageing population requires creative and bold policy solutions, and the opening of parental leave to grandparents is evidence of this.

This move is certainly welcome, yet there is more that the government and employers can do to support this growing group of employees. In Business in the Community’s The missing million: Recommendations for action report, published in April 2015, we called for the right to request flexible working from day one of a new job, which would allow parents, grandparents, or others who needed agility to combine work and other responsibilities for longer than just the first year of a child’s life.

There is huge scope for employers to rethink how they support carers of all ages, using family-friendly and work-life balance policies to enable people to combine work and care at different stages of their lives, and by encouraging organisational culture change around perceptions of both carers and older workers more broadly.

Hopefully sharing parental leave with grandparents is a signal of things to come, that family responsibilities are shared across the generations, not just shouldered by mums. Tackling gender bias is crucial in this too. I hope to see many child-caring grandfathers, as well as grandmothers, supporting their sons and daughters.

It will be interesting to see how many families take this up and choose to share parental leave with grandparents. As an opportunity for greater flexibility for families it is a good thing and should be welcomed. Is this a sign of more innovation in family policy to come, or a one-off?

Rachael Saunders is Age at Work director at Business in the Community