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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 14-Jan-15 15:49:10

Guest post: 'Shared parental leave isn't nearly enough - if we want real equality, we must force change'

We're going backwards in terms of maternity discrimination, says employment lawyer Samantha Mangwana - if we want meaningful change, we must address parental leave properly, and enable men to do their share

Samantha Mangwana

Employment Lawyer, Slater & Gordon

Posted on: Wed 14-Jan-15 15:49:10


Lead photo

'Until this leave is paid at a level which encourages dads to take it up in droves, it won't make a difference.'

When I first became a lawyer ten years ago, the Equal Opportunities Commission was conducting a big research project on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. I remember reading the results – newly-qualified, ambitious, and stunned.

I'd always assumed I'd become a mother, and yet – after all those years of education and training and working hard – I was being told about the devastating impact having a baby still had on so many women's careers. I remember those stats to this day: almost half of all women had been disadvantaged in some way, with 30,000 a year actually losing their jobs, just for having a baby.

It seemed as stupid and retrograde as women not having the vote, or education. It wasn't something my generation should still be contending with, I thought, and besides, it was against the law. I decided to specialise in discrimination, and helped my firm create a free online service for pregnant women and new mums, fought test cases, and I was determined to make a difference.

I was idealistic, and doubtless quite annoying – after all, there are always two sides to every case, and of course it's tricky to manage long periods of absence in the workplace. I soon learned that for most of my clients, getting them a big pay-off was a better outcome than the torturous uncertainty, expense and stress of the litigation process.

Now, I feel a failure. In December, when the TUC released new research into maternity discrimination in the work place, it felt like Groundhog Day. I'd read the exact same stories ten years previously. What was the point of that decade of work, when pregnant women remained so vulnerable in the workplace? I asked myself. The system I work in is failing. If anything, the picture now is bleaker, not better – the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees last year saw a scandalous 80% drop-off in claims. Justice, it seems, is only for those with fat wallets.

It's clear to me now that current discrimination law is not enough. What's needed is proper reform. If we don't want to be reading the same stories in another ten years' time, we need to engineer a more gender equal society.

It's now clear to me that current discrimination law is not enough. What is needed is proper reform, not just for women, but for men - and for businesses, too. If we don't want to be reading the same stories in another ten years, we need to engineer a more gender equal society. Forcing change is something lots of people are squeamish about – '‘Big State’ interfering in private family life!' detractors will cry – but we need to force it, I'm afraid, as other countries have done with huge success, if we want anything resembling fairness in the workplace.

If men and women share parenting, and are equally likely to take parental leave, then this stops being a gender problem. Shared Parental Leave – and its precursor, Additional Paternity Leave – isn't good enough. At £138.18 a week, it's a joke. Until this leave is paid at a level which encourages dads to take it up in droves, it won't make a difference.

Scandinavia is leading by example. In Sweden - where they've had shared parental leave since 1974 - parents receive 480 days' leave, including 390 at 80% of their salary (capped at around £80 a day). 60 days are reserved for each parent and the remaining 360 shared as the couple choose.

There's also a "gender equality bonus" of around £150 a month per parent, to encourage both parents to share the leave equally and stay off together, paid from the third month of the father's leave. When Sweden first introduced a ‘daddy month’ - a block of time specifically for fathers - in 1995, it worked instantly, with the share of dads who took at least one month off increasing from 9 to 47%. Now, most fathers take around 3 months off per child, and so many go to parent and baby coffee mornings that they have their own nickname, “Latte Pappas”. Norway has a similar system, including 14 weeks of leave just for dads. The result is that 90% of Norwegian fathers take at least 12 weeks off. Contrast this with the UK, where 25% of new fathers take no paternity leave at all, and only one in ten take longer than their 2 weeks of statutory leave.

It would be expensive, of course, and Scandinavian countries have much higher rate of tax than us, but it is worth noting that in Sweden, these measures were introduced specifically to support economic growth from within – to encourage population growth, but also to stimulate economic output by protecting women's career progression. Less women lost to “the mummy track” means more can make good on the investment in their education and training; and Sweden has seen a corresponding increase in women's income and self-reported levels of happiness since fathers started to take on more equal parenting.

The message is clear. Real change – like closing the pay gap, fathers becoming primary carers, and women getting through that glass ceiling – requires some kind of financial incentive to make it happen. Maybe it's time for us to wake up and smell the coffee those Swedish "Latte Pappas" are drinking.

By Samantha Mangwana

Twitter: @SG_Employment

Christmasbooks Wed 14-Jan-15 18:04:51

Could not agree more! Yes yes yes. Current system terrible for men and women alike.

Hamiltoes Wed 14-Jan-15 18:22:00

Also agree! Very refreshing to see this getting some publicity.

lostprince Wed 14-Jan-15 19:36:31

My husband was one of the 10 percent lucky enough to take more than two weeks paternity by saving leave and working long hours before the birth to make up flexi. It was wonderful having that family time but it was over so fast and even though he took extra time parenting was still largely my domain, certainly until well after I was back at work and I feel it also impacted the time it took to bond. It would be amazing to have the option to have extended parental leave together to truely co-parent from the start. I hope this is something which will be an option for my kids if they become parents.

moggle Wed 14-Jan-15 19:45:15

True shared leave is coming in the civil service from April. We only had DD 2 months ago and DH who works in central govt is already going on about how much he's looking forward to taking more time off to look after DC2 when they come along.
Perhaps other sectors will follow the civil service's lead..?

Onceuponatimetherewas Wed 14-Jan-15 19:55:28

I wouldn't be happy to pay that level of maternity/paternity pay, and for such a long period, in my taxes. I don't think many people would be. I'd rather see any increase in taxes go to the NHS and other critical areas.
Saying that part of the shared parental leave must go to the dad is an interesting concept, and if linked to say 90% of his pay this could work. But I wouldn't increase the amount currently paid - would just share it out differently. Having said that, isn't there research to suggest that the baby does better with one carer for the first year, rather than being shared between 2 carers?

FantasticMrsFoxx Wed 14-Jan-15 21:12:41

If I worked where my OH works, I'd get maternity pay of 6 months full pay, then 6 months of half. As it is, I'm on SMP and will go back to work after 33 weeks.
He's very lucky in that he gets 2 weeks of paternity pay at full pay.
Until maternity / paternity leave / pay is equalised and employees and employers know where they stand, I can't see anything changing.

letusreasontogether Thu 15-Jan-15 01:31:41

It need not be exclusive to Scandanavia. A sense of genealogical solidarity would go a long way for both ends of the spectrum: economically for leftists and socially for rightists.

sleeplessbunny Thu 15-Jan-15 08:01:48

yes yes yes agree with all this. The UK system is painful to watch and experience and I feel as if I am shouting into a vacuum when I talk about this with people in RL.

ChunkyPickle Thu 15-Jan-15 10:00:37

The UK has a real problem with admitting that children are there, and that they are good for the country and parents need some support (financial) to raise them. My MIL and FIL hate the idea that they are paying for subsidised childcare through their taxes etc, and would strongly oppose any progress on that front.

They forget that they were able to buy their house on one salary, their children were educated to degree level for free (the eldest just got there in time for a grant even), and there was plenty of other SAHM around who looked after their kids if they needed for free, that now they have retired (generally in good health) they have a large house that has unbelievably grown in value, savings, government pension etc. and have it pretty good (yes, I know many don't)

I'm just old enough that I could get on the housing ladder (albeit a 2 bed for a 4 person family, in a not particularly brilliant area - and no prospect of being able to afford more), and only had about 6k of debt from Uni, but people younger than me are coming out of Uni in enormous debt, paying huge rent whilst still trying to save a deposit, then once they manage that they have to start saving to be able to afford to send their kids to Uni whilst paying huge mortgage payments and childcare just so they can keep working. Alternatively one of them takes a huge risk and stays at home with the kids, and should they split up finds them selves vilified as a single parent, still scrabbling for the money to work/paychildcare/keep a roof over their heads.

That's turned into a bit of a rant, and I know there's not infinite money, but I can't see how this is a good way for the future of our country to be treated.

cailindana Thu 15-Jan-15 10:19:22

"Additional Paternity Leave...isn't good enough. At £138.18 a week, it's a joke. Until this leave is paid at a level which encourages dads to take it up in droves, it won't make a difference."

Hang on a fucking second.That £138.18 is the same as Statutory Maternity Pay, the amount that women get, not for two weeks, but for every week beyond the first six weeks of their maternity leave (unless their employer gives them a particular maternity package that provides more money). Millions of women live on that £138.18 a week for nearly a year. And men are complaining because they get it for two weeks? And it's not enough? So women have had to be fine with the "joke" that is SMP, but when men come into the picture, suddenly it's not good enough? Suddenly, we're noticing that the provision for parents (ie women) on leave after a baby is born is inadequate, simply because men don't want it?

How fucking typical. Give women crumbs and expect them to be happy with it, but if the Almighty Men are to be encouraged to wade into the sea of dirty nappies they must be paid Properly, like Real People. Women must do the sleep deprivation, the endless shit, the feeding, the sheer boredom and sometimes despair of the early baby years, all for the love of it (otherwise they're just grabby little harridans right?) but men, well men are Worth Something and so much be paid accordingly.

I despair, I really do.

BuffytheReasonableFeminist Thu 15-Jan-15 11:15:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AllSorted Thu 15-Jan-15 11:38:35

Exactly what I thought Cailin. It might not sound much, but its the same women get (unless they are lucky enough to get enhanced maternity pay) so men ARE being treated equally.

I think we cant loose sight of the fact that there are differences between men and women. Can men breastfeed? No. so unless baby is fed formula, it makes sense for mum to be the one at home. Cant have everything!!

cailindana Thu 15-Jan-15 11:41:54

Take that one further though AllSorted - if the £138.18 isn't good enough for men, why is it good enough for women?

LightningOnlyStrikesOnce Thu 15-Jan-15 12:23:21

Chunky's right on the UK being remarkably anti-children (far too many go on about kids being a lifestyle choice, probably most will have kids of their own eventually). She's also right on the modern cost of living and that the older generation don't understand that. The 'I know there's not infinite money' though...

Well obviously it's not infinite, but the fact remains that there's a hell of a lot out there in the 6th largest economy in the world. It's just that more and more of it is getting into fewer hands. Try for details.

We have a political class that actively wants most people to be extremely poor and a few to be rich beyond belief because they believe against the evidence that that is somehow better for all (how do these people think, or just do they, at all?)

We could do with paying more taxes, but there is no need for pretending we are a poor country. We aren't and we can afford equality. Hell many much poorer countries can pay for it. So let's stop pandering to those 'oh but there's no money' voices.

And have a look at Finland, where people are paid to stay at home with their kids until they are 3, and can still walk back into their jobs. Time for better focus on the needs of kids and family. Economies should work for people, not the other way round, how can an economy exist without us.

WineAndChocolateyummy Thu 15-Jan-15 12:55:40

Cailindana....I don't think the point was its good enought for women, but not men. The fist six weeks of SMP are generally a lot higher than £138 as is a percentage of a woman's pay. If you have a man who is the main earner, asking him to take a massive drop in pay for two weeks will not encourage him to stay at home to support his wife and child if bankruptcy is the result. My husband took one week SPP as we couldn't afford longer. If he had been offered the 90% that women are offered in first weeks, then we could.

purplemurple1 Thu 15-Jan-15 12:57:31

I'm in Sweden and we have it far from right, very few Dad's use the half of the leave they are entitittled to, its sad that men taking 3 months compared to 1yr for women is seen as equal!
I think the subsidised nursery places and wraparound childcare for under 13's (max 3% of your salary for DC1, 2% for DC2 etc) have a much bigger impact on getting women back into the workplace.

The issue in the UK is employers are allowed to discriminate and offer better maternity packages than paternity packages, when men insist on having the same from their employers they will get it. The govt shouldn't be expected to pay more to men than women just to get men to realise they too are parents.

Millionprammiles Thu 15-Jan-15 13:21:57

purple is right - the same package needs to be offered to both parents and capable of being shared equally.

This is about more than SMP, there also needs to be a huge shift in ethos in the workplace:
- fathers actively encouraged to take their share of leave
- flexible, innovative working practices focusing on output and value added rather than desk time
- stop pitching parents and non-parents against each other, reward and incentivise those who cover maternity/paternity leave

Employers need to stop being so blinkered and think long term, employees with no dependants may seem like ideal staff but they're more likely to be transient and job-hop. Recruitment and temporary staff cost businesses money.

SamanthaMangwana Thu 15-Jan-15 16:37:28

Hi everyone, Samantha here.

I agree that £138 isn't enough for anyone, mothers of fathers. My point is that trumpeting the shared parental leave reforms as a revolutionary step forward is a bit disingenuous - 'a joke' - when it so clearly won't be a choice for most people.

Men and women should be paid equally – but I am advocating that this should be at a higher pay level, for both parents. If leave remains paid at around the levels it currently is, real change is not going to happen - I do not anticipate that fathers will start to take an equal share of the leave available. In many families, the decision will still be that the highest earner goes to work, and the other stays at home. And the shameful state of unequal pay in this country means that most often, the higher earner will be the father. I am certainly not saying it is good enough for women as it is; and echo the sentiments expressed here.

The fact that women bear the lion's share of childcare responsibilities, and take almost all the leave for this, is one of the key underlying factors which creates the many inequalities for women in the workplace – getting paid less than men for doing the same (or better) work; being passed over for promotion once at child-bearing age, or upon the first pregnancy; a lesser role or redundancy on return – and even a general perception that they become less committed than men to their careers after parenthood (which is the experience of many of my clients).

We need a way to treat the cause and not just the symptoms of these prejudices. If bringing up children was to become seen as 'gender neutral' – with men just as likely as women to take extended leave following birth, and then continuing to play an equally hands-on role throughout parenthood – the mind-set would start to change on these issues. But to make that happen, they will have to choose to take the leave in the first place, which is precisely why pay is so crucial…

squizita Thu 15-Jan-15 17:43:05

It's telling that whenever it comes to light I am the primary wage earner and dh is considering part time work or sahp people stare slack jawed. There is muttering as of we're weirs or unnatural. And I work in a rather "right on" left ie sector.

I've even been asked why I married him.
He's no waster ... I just happen to be good at what I do and shrewd at negotiating pay.

So sad. Even at my work I've been told I "should" want to downgrade my job now I'm a mum ... not work fewer hours necessary. .. just fulfil the little woman role. Impossible as I need to pay our bills: also insulting to me and my husband (who is great with dd).

stargirl1701 Thu 15-Jan-15 18:50:53

Could a case now be brought to Europe regarding the disparity that exists between mat pay and pat pay? In workplaces where mat pay is more than SMP, should men not be given equal pat pay? Under the Equality legislation?

Itiswell Thu 15-Jan-15 20:13:20

So many interesting points. I think Shared Parental Leave is a step in the right direction, definitely a step forward from Additional Paternity Leave. It closes thegender inequality gap to an extent and surely that's good.

squizita Thu 15-Jan-15 20:28:09

Oh to the PP who suggested ONE carer better for the first year: NO. Almost all development research shows an extended family of caring adults is best for the child in the 1st year (be they two parents or one parent and their family). Being juggled between nurseries and childminders early can be less than ideal: this is not the same as a child having regular care from their father at all ... Indeed clumsy ad hoc commercial childcare is what happens when dads cannot afford to share time off and mums either return to work or even are unwell etc . After this time, language development can progress better within a good childcare environment (compared to grandparents alone - though socio economic factors could skew this data). Conflating extended family caring for small babies with creche care is at best misguided and at worse a deliberate misrepresentation.

Elicity1978 Thu 15-Jan-15 23:59:47

There is something quite clear (and shocking) to me in this country, there are no feminists. I don't know any other country in Europe where women have to give up their careers just because paying childcare is more expensive than their incomes. Do you know any other place where a nursery fee is over £1,000 a month?? And were a nanny makes more money than a brainsurgeon in Spain? Seriously!! The main inequality problem here is childcare. If this happened in any other country there would be thousands of women demonstrating in Westminster everyday. Samantha I wish there were more people like you, we should question this shit and make a big deal about it. It's not fair.

Stillwishihadabs Fri 16-Jan-15 03:04:40

Isn't it now the case that women out earn men before pregnancy ? Therefore if the higher earner went to work, wouldn't that more commonly be the women. If these rules had existed 10 years ago dh would certainly have taken the 2nd six months.

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