Policy must catch up with changing gender roles in British householdsby Maria Miller / April 6, 2018 / Leave a comment
On the third anniversary of its Shared Parental Leave scheme, the government should be commended for its attempts to spread childcare responsibilities more equally—but further reforms to family friendly policies are still needed.
The Women and Equalities Committee, which I Chair, held a major inquiry into the support that fathers receive at work to help them better fulfil their caring responsibilities and we published our report just before Easter.
We found that fathers increasingly want to play a more active role in looking after their children. The government is clear that fathers should take on a greater share of childcare duties and it has a number of well-intentioned policies to support this aim.
However, as our inquiry heard, these policies simply do not deliver on what they promise, and particularly so for less well-off fathers. Many men are put off due to perceived negative stereotypes about a man’s role at home, the impact on their career or simply because they do not feel that workplace policies are supportive enough.
One of the most necessary reforms we propose is around the Shared Parental Leave scheme. Introduced on 6th April 2015, it has the intention of allowing parents to share care in their child’s first year. This is very welcome by fathers who are able to take it, but for others it is not practical and is an offer on paper only. It has had a low take up, there are concerns about the design of the policy and even the government has told us it will not meet its objectives.
Shared Parental Leave is also not as fair as it sounds. It is taken once the mother has ended her maternity leave, reinforcing cultural assumptions that the mother is the primary carer and can “give” leave to the father rather than him being entitled in his own right.
We have proposed an overhaul of this policy and the government’s planned review of it later this year is the ideal opportunity to carry this out. Our report recommends that the government should consider the costs and benefits of an alternative policy of 12 weeks’ standalone leave for fathers to which they would be entitled in their own right. We want ministers to set out in detail how supporting fathers to do more childcare will support mothers in the workplace, benefit children and bring long-term benefits to the economy.