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Mothers will be able to return to work earlier and transfer their maternity leave to their partners under moves to help both parents share the burden of child care.
The Coalition is also looking to offer more opportunities for flexible working which parents can request throughout their son or daughter’s childhood.
A new Children and Families Bill will be one of the major pieces of legislation for the next year to be announced in the Queen''s Speech at the state opening of Parliament.
Under the existing arrangements, women can take up to a year’s maternity leave. For the first six weeks, maternity pay is typically calculated at 90 per cent of average weekly earnings. Then, for another 33 weeks, the pay either continues to be 90 per cent of weekly wages, or £135.45 a week — whichever is the lowest.
Employers can recoup this money from the Government although many firms offer more generous maternity pay. Any additional maternity leave is unpaid. At the moment, women can transfer the second half of their year’s leave to fathers. This may now be extended to nine months.
The new arrangements mean that women who earn more than their partners can go back to work earlier and the families will be better off as the lower-earning father moves onto the statutory maternity pay.
Yesterday, David Cameron and Nick Clegg made a rare joint appearance to reaffirm the importance of the Coalition following last week’s dismal election results.
The two leaders said that although cutting the deficit and repairing the economy was their central mission, they also wanted to continue with the introduction of radical reforms to help Britons in their daily lives.
The package of family-friendly policies and a simplified and improved state pension system will form the centrepiece of today’s announcement on the Government policy agenda for the next year.
A Downing Street source said: “Dealing with the deficit and getting the economy growing remains the Coalition’s top priority. The Prime Minister is passionate about making sure that these children get the best start in life that they can, and this Bill will help us to do that.”
Measures in the Bill will include:
• Legal requirements to ensure that most children will have a relationship with their father if their parents divorce. Judges will have to ensure children enjoy a “meaningful” relationship with their father if possible.
• Tighter controls on music videos and computer games to stop unsuitable material being seen by children as part of new laws to enact recommendations from an official review of child sexualisation.
• A speeding-up of the adoption process, particularly for ethnic minority children. Councils will have to prioritise cutting the time to find parents for children ahead of considering their ethnicity. The family justice system will also be reformed so that cases involving children being placed into care must be completed within six months.
• A system to assess and give assistance to children with special educational needs. A simple assessment process will be introduced and local councils will have to liaise with doctors and the NHS to ensure that children with special needs are properly cared for and educated.
Ministers will also pledge today to publish detailed legislation to overhaul the beleaguered social care system within the next year.
This is expected to involve offering people a “cap” on the maximum amount they will have to spend on a nursing home, with any additional treatment covered by taxpayers.
Measures will be introduced to improve the regulation of care homes, with new user ratings, and a crackdown on the postcode lottery in standards and cost of care offered by local authorities.
A draft social care Bill will be published later in the year with the actual legislation due to be presented to Parliament in 2013.
Charities have demanded government action to tackle the growing crisis in social care. Although the Queen’s Speech will set out the timetable for the reforms, the disclosure that legislation will not be enacted for at least a year may disappoint campaigners.
However, ministers are expected to argue that they want to form a national consensus, with backing from the Labour Party, charities and those representing the elderly before pushing ahead with the major reforms.
“We need to get this legislation right as it needs to have the public confidence to last for many decades,” said one government source. “But we are determined to develop the solution.”
Other measures in the Queen’s Speech include a crackdown on anti-social behaviour and community sentences for criminals.
The Home Office will also unveil legislation to extend police and intelligence agency surveillance to forms of internet-based communication.
As disclosed in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, there will also be major new legislation to cut down on employment and other business regulations.
However, the pledge to reform the House of Lords is expected to be watered down — to make it clear that Parliament will discuss reforms to bring in elected peers this year.
The Liberal Democrats are understood to have dropped their demands for new legislation this year. However, there is growing speculation that Mr Clegg may request other concessions, including a possible delay in the redrawing of Parliamentary constituencies, in return for the softening in his position.
The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that House of Lords reform was not his key priority, pointedly only saying that overhauling the upper chamber should be “considered”.