The Labour Party has had a bit of support for its proposed extension to paid parental leave; the bill has made it through first reading but is likely to be vetoed for its likely budgetary effect as paid parental leave here is covered by the government.
I've not run the numbers on what the legislation is likely to cost the government in terms of budgetary effect. But I'm a bit worried about another potential cost: employers being more reluctant to take on female employees with high risk of childbearing.
Even though the government pays those on parental leave, employers still bear costs in having to sort out temporary replacement cover while remaining in some uncertainty about whether the employee will return or will decide to spend a longer time out of the workforce. Pascal Petit showed in a French field experiment that employers are reluctant to take on employees who are more likely to take maternity leave.
It's a bit of a toss-up whether an extended paid leave period makes women more or less likely to seek to return to the workplace after a spell of maternity leave. The longer one is out of the workforce, the harder it is to return, but sorting out early childhood care for an older child could be easier. The cost to employers is likely to increase: it takes employees longer to get back up to speed after a longer period away, and it's also harder to try to cover the vacancy with internal resources.
If Labour's serious about the proposal, they might consider adding an amendment paying a small bonus to an employer where there's been a successful return to the workplace subsequent to maternity leave. It would encourage them to make the arrangements to facilitate the return, and to be less reluctant to hire women of higher maternity risk.