Stick to your guns over parenting leave reform, FI urges Government

4 July 2012

The Fatherhood Institute is calling on the Government to stick to its guns and introduce a more flexible system of parenting leave that could transform family life and the British economy – in the face of misguided opposition to the proposed reforms, which has not been rigorously thought-through.

The Government announced in the Queen’s Speech that it plans to reform parenting leave so as to allow families more choice and flexibility over who takes time off in the first year after a baby’s birth – without reducing mothers’ current entitlement to a full year’s leave.

But an alliance of campaign groups and unions is mobilising against the plans, advising members to write to their MPs complaining about Government plans to ‘cut maternity leave’ even though the same amount of leave would still be available to women in the form of 18 weeks’ maternity leave followed by 34 weeks’ parental leave. Misinformation has also included the suggestion that after 18 weeks, women would have to ‘negotiate’ with their employers about taking more leave. In fact, before giving birth mothers would, as now, give notice to employers of the amount of leave they intend to take – which remains up to 52 weeks.

There are signs that employers are happy with the principle of parents sharing leave, even if they object to any extension of paternity leave. For example the Institute of Directors said: “Allowing parental leave to be shared is a sensible proposal that we welcome – it makes sense as an arrangement to give families more flexibility in how they use their allowance. The Government should be careful not to use this as an opportunity to increase levels of leave, though. Sharing the allowance is fine, but putting heavier burdens on business in these tough times would not be a sensible move.”

However employers have failed to acknowledge that for every father taking parental leave, a mother would be returning to the workplace. Employers have also worried that when leave is called ‘parental leave’ rather than ‘maternity leave’ they will have to give the same benefits to fathers as to mothers. In fact, they already have to: once parenting leave is for the care of a child, rather than for recovering from the birth (normally judged to take about fourteen weeks), an employer (or country) that does not accord fathers and mothers the same rights is vulnerable to challenge under equalities legislation – whatever the leave is actually called.

The Fatherhood Institute believes that the UK is in danger of wasting a golden opportunity to bring our old-fashioned parenting leave system up to date and reduce the gender pay gap, which is actually increasing faster in the UK than in any other of the richer nations . When mothers take long maternity leave and/or are seen as solely or largely responsible for looking after children, they pay a lifelong ‘motherhood penalty’ in terms of earnings and career progression. It is estimated that the UK economy loses more than £20 billion a year through under-use of women’s skills and qualifications . Meanwhile, evidence from Sweden suggests that a mother’s future earnings increase on average by 7% over a four year period for every month of leave the father takes .

The Government’s planned reforms contain the essential building blocks of a fair and gender-equitable parenting leave system that is normative in other countries and would bring us more in line with Europe’s most family friendly countries.

It’s vital that the Government’s plans not be derailed, according to Fatherhood Institute joint chief executive Adrienne Burgess: “Both mothers and fathers are happier, their relationship is more stable and children flourish when fathers play a greater role in caring for them and mothers earn more. We need a parenting leave system that supports this – not one that gets in the way”.

Find out more about the different options under consideration, and the background to the current debate, in the documents below:

UK parenting leave summary table

Parenting leave consultation briefing

If you support our campaign for a more flexible and equitable parenting leave system for the UK – and would be happy to share your story – please email our head of communications Jeremy Davies or call him on 0780 371 1692.


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