Should parental leave be longer and more flexible?

The government is considering plans to extend parental leave by four weeks and enable the mother and father to split the leave between them.
At the moment, mothers are entitled to 52 weeks leave and fathers two weeks. The current regulations allow mothers to share up to six months of their entitlement with the father. However, if they choose this route, the leave must be taken as a single block.

Under new proposals, the mother would be entitled to 18 weeks directly following the birth but the following 30 weeks could be shared in small blocks between the parents.

Depending on the needs of a business, employers could demand that this leave be taken in a continuous block.

On top of this, both parents would be entitled to take an additional four weeks leave each and fathers would retain the right to have two weeks leave directly after the birth as they do now.

Vince Cable, who has just launched a consultation on these proposals, said the measures are fairer and give parents more choice on how to balance work and family commitments.

Cable went on to say that minimising costs and reducing bureaucracy had been uppermost in his mind when he developed the proposals and businesses would benefit from a motivated and flexible workforce.

Some organisations have already expressed concerns about the affect such a move would have on UK businesses. The Federation of Small Businesses, for example, said small companies would be hit hard by these changes and all firms would find it more difficult to administer parental leave.

A lot has changed since David Lloyd George included a maternity grant in the National Insurance Act of 1911. The UK now offers some of the most generous parental provisions anywhere in the world.

But are these proposals taking things a step too far?

Will businesses and particularly SMEs be able to cope with fathers taking small blocks of time off work?

Or will they exercise their right to demand that the leave is taken in a continuous block?