Government unveils parental leave reforms
Last week saw Nick Clegg unveil long overdue parental leave reforms; big news in terms of culture change around how we see male and female roles within the family.
Under the new rules, mums will be able to trigger flexible leave at any point – if and when she feels ready. This means that whatever time is left to run on her original year can be taken by her partner instead.
Alternatively couples can chop up the remaining time between them – taking it in turns. Or they can take time off together – whatever suits them. On the face of it, the new reforms are a significant move towards equality for parents.
But there is a catch: only 12 months can be taken in total, with no more than 9 months at guaranteed pay. What’s more, this new system of flexible parental leave won’t come into effect until 2015.
With this in mind, David Lammy MP’s eloquent lecture on “A Good Society” for the Centre for Social Justice last week was very timely.
Lammy has many admirers – cross government and at local level – and he has long been vocal on the importance of the involvement of men in their children’s lives. He is not alone in believing that we must ensure that fathers have the same access to services and parental leave that mothers have.
In his lecture he made a valid point: Europeans are laughing at us. Scandinavian countries in particular can’t believe this sharing of parental leave is even an issue, let alone how long this reform has taken.
That parental leave has been skewed towards mothers for so long means, despite many government initiatives aimed at dads, new fathers miss out on crucial bonding time. It also means too many women continue to feel discriminated against by their employers and are often nervous of how they will be viewed if they take time out and put their family first.
For too long men have had to go back to work having spent barely a couple of weeks with their children (the same time as the average summer holiday). It does seem pretty antiquated when you think about.
This is well worn territory, but Lammy’s lecture made some new points on the issue and provided much food for thought. It seems that even with this reform couples working part time or on low wages will still struggle.
And those on higher salaries will too; with our increasingly accepted culture of long hours, even those fathers who want to do the right thing can become strangers to their children. There is a tension between family life and work – where those on low salaries can’t afford to be there for their children and those on full time higher salaries are expected to put in long hours. New legislation is welcome but we need to value the bond between both parents and baby more than this.