Last week, Gordon Brown announced another shake-up of the rules governing parental leave while at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference in Liverpool. Plans to extend maternity leave from nine months to one year have been shelved in favour of extending a father’s right to paternity leave. In addition, as an acknowledgement of the fact that the father may now always be the main breadwinner in a family, parents can now “share” the parental leave entitlement between them, allowing the mother to return to work early and the father to stay at home with baby.
However, owing to the present economic climate and the potential for disruption these new leave entitlements may bring, the new regulations won’t come into effect until April 2011.
While objectively “a good thing”, the news hasn’t been welcomed positively by all commentators. The British Chambers of Commerce and Federation of Small Business have criticised the timing of the move and warned about the administrative burden it places on businesses.
In addition, the Fatherhood Institute, while welcoming the recognition of the role of fathers, criticised the lack of what they referred to as “well-paid” parental leave:
Rob Williams, Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute said: “We welcome the recognition that fathers are important to their children, and the government’s commitment to encouraging fathers to be more involved in their care.
“But whilst it is a step in the right direction, we are concerned that take-up amongst fathers will be low. There is no real incentive package and what is being offered will either be unpaid or paid at a very low rate so few families will be able to afford for fathers to take it up. In addition, there is a risk that some poorer families will miss out altogether, for instance where mothers are not entitled to maternity pay and therefore have no rights to transfer over.
“We would like to see the government make the entitlement to leave available to fathers in their own right, and develop a model similar to that used in Germany, Norway, and many other European countries, where a significant amount of leave – paid at a reasonable rate – is specifically available to just the father.”
Payment aside, one has to wonder about the potential for take-up of paternal leave when so many UK organisations are making staff redundant. Many employees fear taking time off due to illness in this kind of environment, let alone several months of paternity leave. It will be interesting to see rates of take-up up of this leave once introduced, particularly if the economy hasn’t at least begun to stage a recovery in the UK. The Government itself estimates that at most 8% of qualifying fathers will claim this new additional paternal leave.
The Guardian has some insight from a Danish father, Denmark being one of the examples generally highlighted in the parental leave debate:
It’s wonderful to be that close to your child – this intimacy is something you will never have experienced before. It’s also great for your relationship. But there are downsides. You will experience sleep and sound torture. Your brain will be entirely focused on nap intervals and porridge intake. You’ll cry in public places. In short, you are about to enter – simultaneously – heaven and hell. Welcome.
Would you take advantage of the new paternity leave? If not, why not? Let me know in the comments!