The Budget: Maternity pay and leave rights are extended to cover adoptive parents

Adoption
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Hundreds of couples who adopt children are to qualify for paid maternity and paternity leave for the first time in a move to bring them into line with birth parents.

Hundreds of couples who adopt children are to qualify for paid maternity and paternity leave for the first time in a move to bring them into line with birth parents.

The Chancellor said adoptive parents should be able to take the same time off work to bond with children as natural parents.

The move, which will cost a few million pounds, received overwhelming backing from employees and parents during a consultation process on extending the rights of working parents. It will give mothers who adopt the right to 26 weeks of statutory maternity pay and two weeks paid leave for fathers.

Until now, adoptive parents have only been entitled to 13 weeks of unpaid parental leave, which must be taken in blocks of no more than four weeks.

But during the Government's recent consultation process, employers and parents gave overwhelming support to including adoptive parents.

About 2,000 children are adopted from care each year and about 70 per cent of the adoptive parents are in full-time jobs. Adoptive parents would be able to choose who will take time off, and the payment would go to that person.

The Adoption Information Line, which last year referred 3,257 people - interested in becoming a foster carer or adopter - to agencies throughout the UK, praised the announcement.

A spokesman said: "Gordon Brown announced in his budget speech the Government's intention to give adopters a right to the equivalent of maternity benefit. This move has met with universal approval of all agencies involved in the adoption sphere."

During a consultation exercise mounted by the Department of Trade and Industry, adoption agencies said it was essential for adopted children to be able to enjoy the full-time attention of at least one of their new parents when they first became a family.

One in five employers told the DTI that adoption leave was a priority in terms of good staff relations. Most companies accepted that adoption was a "considerable undertaking" which required time for parents to establish a bond with their children.

Some councils require parents to spend several weeks at home when they first adopt, which some argue could be a barrier for working parents.

The Government has been campaigning to help parents adopt by making social services departments take a more common-sense approach. The aim has been to match many more children in care with suitable families and reduce the suffering experienced by childless couples who encounter bureaucracy.

The Disabled Person's Tax Credit will rise by £5 a week to guarantee a minimum weekly family income of £250.

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