Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam Gonzalez-Durantez (Reuters)

The UK government has pledged to enable fathers to share 50 weeks of parental leave from April 2015.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stressed he wanted to challenge the "old-fashioned assumption" that women will always be the parent that stays at home.

"Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby," Clegg said.

He added: "Women should be supported by their employers, rather than being made to feel less employable or under pressure to take unchallenging jobs."

His proposals mean employers will be able to insist leave is taken in a continuous block, and limit the number of changes.

In addition, anyone who takes up to six months leave must be offered the same role again.

But the Institute of Directors described the new rights as a "nightmare" for employers.

"The IoD understands the case for a system of shared parental leave and how it could help to widen the talent pool available to employers," said Alexander Ehmann, deputy director of policy at the Institute of Directors.

He added: "Unfortunately, today's announcements heap yet more burdens on struggling employers at a time when government should be freeing them to create jobs and wealth."

Gloria De Piero MP, Labour's shadow minister for women and equalities, also criticised Clegg.

She said: "Clegg claims to be on parents' side but he and David Cameron have done nothing to support families in the last three years.

"Instead this out-of-touch government has cut childcare support and places and there are now 578 fewer sure start centres than in 2010."