From April new fathers will be entitled to take up to six months’ paternity leave. The coalition’s family-friendly rhetoric is appealing, but how many men will actually take more time off?by Matthew Taylor / February 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Click here to read Ian Hargreaves (Professor of Journalism), David Kershaw (head of M&C Saatchi), and Clive Stafford-Smith (Director of Reprieve) on how their experience of fatherhood differs from that of their fathers
To the hundred or so guests at the UK Nordic Baltic summit, held during late January in the achingly trendy surroundings of the Whitechapel Gallery, the distinctiveness of Cameron’s conservatism became abundantly clear. While his government pursues a traditional right-of-centre plan for state retrenchment, the prime minister used an informal day of workshops to discuss a policy that many in his party would consider suspiciously progressive. Along with green energy and innovation, one of the key themes chosen for discussion among the nine premiers and a variety of entrepreneurs, think tank experts and technologists was gender equality and work-family balance.
Days earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had announced that the coalition would implement the Labour government’s plans to increase paternity leave, and consider a more ambitious package of entitlements to be introduced in 2015. From April, fathers will be allowed to share part of their partner’s parental leave, so that working mothers and fathers can divide up parenting duties more equally. As Clegg put it, the current laws, under which men can take a maximum of two weeks and women up to a year, “marginalise men and patronise women.” In future, if a mother chooses to go back to work early, the father will be entitled to take up to 26 weeks’ additional leave—and claim the mother’s remaining statutory pay.
Although Cameron and Clegg have spoken before about the importance of family-friendly working—and indeed both have taken their allotted paternity leave—this was still a surprising move. An avowedly pro-business government committed to reducing red tape found itself being attacked by the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce, whose director-general demanded to know “how is an employer expected to plan and arrange cover with this fully-flexible system?”
A more philosophical objection could be mounted here too. Coalition ministers are fond of accusing the last government of social engineering—but isn’t legislating to encourage fathers to take more parental leave open to the same criticism? It’s not as if men have marched on the streets to demand more time with their children; a 2009 survey found that nearly half of fathers don’t even take the two weeks’ paid leave every new dad has been entitled to…