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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Sat 25-Oct-14 20:46:05

Guest post: Nick Clegg - 'When it comes to parental leave, we must pay fathers the same as mothers if we want gender equality'

This week, Nick Clegg announced that the Civil Service will allow fathers who take parental leave the same financial benefits that it offers mothers - and that private business must follow suit if Britain is to achieve gender equality. Here he explains why - tell us what you think.

Nick Clegg

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Posted on: Sat 25-Oct-14 20:46:05


Lead photo

Nick Clegg says fathers must have the same parental leave benefits as women

Let’s bankrupt Britain’s businesses and, once we’re done, burn the buildings to the ground.

This is what you might have thought I’d said last week, if you saw some of the reaction to my plans to increase fathers' rights when it comes to shared parental leave.

From now on the Civil Service will pay the same to fathers who take parental leave after their babies are born as it pays mothers who do so.

Let’s be clear: we are not doubling the leave and pay that is available, we are just making sure it can be shared between mothers and fathers as they see fit. Whether it’s mums or dads who take the leave, they’ll receive equal pay – and we’d like businesses to follow suit.

A significant change, yes, but highly controversial? I didn’t think so, until I saw the outrage it prompted from parts of the right-wing press.

Such a step, they declared, will be ‘crippling’ to taxpayers and business. But why, when there is no extra cost to the economy attached? For every day a man spends at home, a woman will be back at work, so what’s the problem?

What the critics are really saying is that companies can afford to lose a woman for a few months, but they can’t afford to lose a man. The message is loud and clear: women, we don’t need you. Or, at least, we don’t need you as much.

It feels ridiculous for me to even write in this article that women are as valuable to their employers as their male counterparts – of course they are! – and yet it seems the flamingly obvious still needs to be said.

What utter rubbish – and a sorry glimpse into the dated misogyny that still stalks part of the British establishment. It feels ridiculous for me to even write in this article that women are as valuable to their employers as their male counterparts – of course they are! – and yet it seems the flamingly obvious still needs to be said.

Thankfully the dinosaurs and naysayers are not reflective of the country at large. The broader reaction was much more positive. Indeed, many businesses understand the difference a contented, valued workforce can make to their bottom line.

Where I do agree that there are legitimate questions to be asked is on the issue of take up. From next spring we are radically transforming Britain’s leave rules. For the first time ever parents will have a legal right to divvy up between them the year off that is available after a baby is born, in whichever way they see fit – a far cry from the previous system, under which women were given a year and men a paltry two weeks. But we need to encourage fathers to take advantage of this new right.

Better pay arrangements will help. Many men are reluctant to take time off when their children are born, discouraged by the raised eyebrows of their bosses and colleagues. But they are also put off by the drop in earnings they’d face – especially if they’re the bigger earner. That’s why the Civil Service will make it more affordable for fathers to make this choice, and we want as many companies as possible to do the same. In government again the Liberal Democrats would also introduce a “daddy month” – a new, additional use-it-or-lose block of time for new dads to stay at home. We know more men want to be more involved with their children home and, crucially, we know the difference it makes to a child’s development when they do.

As more and more couples enjoy these new rights, I hope we’ll see another big benefit too – helping us tackle the pay gap, which still stands at women, on average, being paid 20% less than men. It’s after children are born that the gap really begins to grow, with women being passed over for promotion or else moving into part-time work. But if both sexes are equally likely to take time out of their career to look after young children, and if both are equally likely to go part-time to help them juggle work and home – employers won’t have an excuse for letting women fall behind.

So the only thing that will be “crippled” by new, fairer leave rules is the outdated assumption that women should be in the kitchen while men bring home the bacon. There is certainly still a lot more to be done before mothers and fathers enjoy real equality of choice, and we won’t get there overnight. But we won’t get there at all if the everyday misogynists get their way. So long as my party has a say over things, they won’t.

By Nick Clegg

Twitter: nick_clegg

ForTheLoveOfSocks Sat 25-Oct-14 21:07:08

So a woman goes through a pregnancy and childbirth, their bodies are recovering and in order to be 'equal' must hand over their leave in order for their partner to take more leave. And you are painting it as giving mothers more choice and fathers more time at home.

Rather than taking leave from the mother to give to the father, how about giving fathers better paid leave automatically with resorting to stealing it from post partum women.

And to be honest I've had enough of hearing how employee costs cripple businesses. If you can't afford to pay staff correctly, then the business is not viable

ArsenicChaseScream Sat 25-Oct-14 21:30:20

I think one of the reasons for transferable parental leave was that take-up of paternity leave has been so low.

Transferable leave will hopefully thwart discrimination by employers against women of child-bearing age.

ArsenicChaseScream Sat 25-Oct-14 21:31:01

But it's too little.

Meglet Sat 25-Oct-14 21:42:24

Too little, too late Clegg.

Lullabullacoo Sat 25-Oct-14 22:08:05

What a stupid policy idea. I feel Nick spends his time diminishing the unique role mothers play. Has he ever looked at research about attachment theory and mothers? And not all fathers are suited to parenting small babies. Perhaps he should talk to mothers first to check out their ideas first before announcing policies! I would have hated sharing my maternity leave with children's father. I needed time to recover from delivery/pregnancy/PND and the thought of leaving my baby. Maybe politicians should spend some time in the real world other than just for photo opportunities.

MsMarple Sat 25-Oct-14 22:33:24

I can't help thinking that all this will do is make mothers feel under MORE pressure to go back to work and share the leave, as otherwise they will somehow be being unfair to the fathers. I know some women are happy to go back to work, and perhaps some fathers enjoy spending their days with a baby, but based on my own (admittedly small, and unscientifically selected!) circle of friends, I don't know a single father who has been at the train station in tears on their first day back at work being parted from their baby. But I do know more than one woman who has been in that situation. It is silly to pretend that in the very early stages of a child's life fathers have the same connection, or bond with the child, as the mother. However much we rationalise against it, human babies, like other animals, are naturally going to want their mothers early on. I don't mean to imply that fathers aren't important, but that their involvement is most important at a different time.

What would be better, if the aim truly is to help fathers bond with their children at a time which will be most useful to the child, is to allow fathers certain days paid parental leave during the year when their children are school age. This is a time when they will really appreciate (and remember) their fathers turning up at plays, and sports days, and staying home with them if they are ill. An ongoing commitment to supporting fathers, throughout their children's childhood, would surely be better for parents and children, than a couple of months caring for a baby taken at the expense of time with its mother.

YonicScrewdriver Sat 25-Oct-14 22:48:51

I think this is a good idea. No mother needs to rush back post partum; six months each, for example, is perfectly do able, or five and four, or nine and three, or whatever works for a couple.

BellBookandCandle Sat 25-Oct-14 23:01:45

Shared parental leave was mooted/explored under New Labour And if I recall right, SME's kiboshed it , even though the terms were much the same as now.

Despite MsMarples misgivings, I think it is a good policy. Fathers just as much as mothers are pivotal,in raising a child. I was the major wage earner when our DD was born and I took my full 12 months leave- not all paid I hasten to add only 6 months. Had my partner been able to share this leave I would have returned to work sooner and he would have become the SAHD SOONER. as it was he did 4 years at home as it worked out better than him returning to the Civil Service at his grade/location.

No parent should be pressured to return to work and if MsMarple thinks this policy will contribute to that then I would challenge her choice of partners/relationships. My partner was in bits when he returned to work when DD started full time school - so based on my (albeit small sample) I have to draw the conclusion this is a good thing and a step in the right direction.

Mothers and Fathers are equally important in a child's life and anything that enables families to have greater choice/more flexibility in a child's early years has to be good.

As a woman I want to be recognised as equal to any man in terms of work/ability pay and leave and I feel that maternity leave is an area that has been shielded (maybe unfairly?) from the equality debate and I'm happy to welcome the concept of shared leave.

morethanpotatoprints Sat 25-Oct-14 23:05:18

I think it is far better to split mat leave between the two, 6 months is all that was on offer when our older 2 were babies some Dads didn't even take the two weeks if they weren't getting paid. Now a full year between both is fair and equal.

YonicScrewdriver Sat 25-Oct-14 23:07:53

And I'm sure men would be more upset at leaving their kids if the split wasn't 2 weeks vs up to a year, as it is now!

sleepyhead Sat 25-Oct-14 23:47:45

Dh was absolutely gutted when he went back to work after spending 6 months on parental leave. He saw it as an amazing opportunity and he wouldn't have missed it for the world.

As we also have a 7 year old, it gave him the opportunity to be far more involved in ds1's life for 6 months as well.

Since going back to work, dh has renegotiated his hours so that he can continue doing school pick up three days a week which is great for ds1 who gets to play in the park after school instead of going to aftercare, great for ds2 who does shorter days at nursery than he otherwise would, and great for me as I can be far more flexible with my working hours.

If shared leave hadn't been available, we might not have considered dh working slightly fewer hours to solve a child care problem.

It's not going to work for all families who may find that 12 months for the mother works best for them, but the previous arrangement also didn't work for all families. It's a start.

ColdCottage Sun 26-Oct-14 01:58:28

This is what I've been saying for years.

sleeplessbunny Sun 26-Oct-14 06:39:16

I completely support this policy, Clegg puts the point across well and I am encouraged to see the Civil Service implementing equal parental pay. My only concern with the new policy was that it would spell the end of enhanced maternity pay from employers, lets hope they will take note of the precedent set and the reasons behind it.

I do not agree that this takes anything away from postpartum mothers: surely it enables the family to make the right choice for them.

Cherrypi Sun 26-Oct-14 07:16:40

Surely men should get a year too. Anything else will potentially be reducing the mothers' leave for the father. Then you could have a parent at home for the first two years.

Chunderella Sun 26-Oct-14 07:27:59

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sleeplessbunny Sun 26-Oct-14 07:31:58

Why Cherrypi? Maybe each parent could have 2 years? Why stop there? 3? 4? grin

This needs to be economically viable, and in the UK we already have an extremely generous maternity leave allowance. An effective increase is wishful thinking.

The current arrangement is so imbalanced it encourages and reinforces gender roles and stereotyping by effectively forcing the mother to be the primary caregiver of young children. A lot of the comments I am reading here just prove the point really. I fail to see why men shouldn't be able to provide the same level of care if they want to. The current system denies them this.

namelessposter Sun 26-Oct-14 07:32:56

I agree with this policy and I would
Vote for it. The increased risk of having to cover maternity leave is one of the reasons women of childbearing age are discriminated against in recruitment and promotion. Make that an equal risk for both sexes, and it's one less reason to exclude women from promotion.

Cherrypi Sun 26-Oct-14 07:40:45

I think eighteen months each would be ideal. Then each child would potentially get the first thousand days with a parent at home.

The sharing of leave will involve additional cost. Both employers will need to communicate leading to an administrative cost. It might be cheaper to give all Dads an extra month paternity leave.

Moltenpink Sun 26-Oct-14 07:43:32

With my first child four years ago, I returned to work after 8 months and used a nursery. This was not financially motivated, it was to keep up the momentum on my career. I think I would have felt too isolated after a whole year off to return.

Our second child is due in two weeks and I'm so happy that when I return, my husband will take the remainder of the year off. Yes I'm slightly jealous that he gets the "interesting" phase of crawling and weaning while I do the newborn bits, but it means a lot to us to dedicate a full year to our children.

No man has taken this up yet at my work though (300+ employees) nor at my husband's work, so we get a few raised eyebrows when we tell people the plan. I asked my boss if he would take it now if he had the chance, but he looked quite sad and said he wouldn't get away with it career wise. More men need to break tradition and take longer off, otherwise the pay inequality will never reduce.

Chunderella Sun 26-Oct-14 07:46:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Cherrypi Sun 26-Oct-14 07:57:29

Chunderella I meant the dad and the mum's employers would need to communicate additionally. Though maybe that could be done through HMRC. I think it would still involve an extra cost.

FishWithABicycle Sun 26-Oct-14 08:04:04

I'm very supportive of this, excellent news.
The one tweak I would really like would be to make it possible, if both employers agree, for the leave and benefits to be shared for some of the time by both partners being part-time temporarily. Obviously there are many jobs that this wouldn't work for, but there are many where it would but it can't happen at the moment.

In an ideal world, I would have preferred to have had 3 months off work just myself then gone back to work 0.5fte part time with DH covering the other 0.5. As it was I had to go straight into full-time when I went back and DH took over with full-time childcare for 4months but neither of us was really happy with this. We both would have been a lot saner if we could have had part-time pat/maternity leave.

Chunderella Sun 26-Oct-14 08:08:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Cherrypi Sun 26-Oct-14 08:12:54

Do you mean from April? They will need to be additional checks in place to make sure the total taken off by both parents doesn't go over a year else what's to stop each parent saying they're taking nine months off.

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