The UK Coalition Government is set to strike an important blow for men’s equality by accepting proposals made by the former Labour Government to give mothers and fathers the right to share parental leave and committing to put a “proper system of shared parental leave” in place by 2015.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, will condemn the current system of parental leave – introduced by the previous Labour administration in the face of criticism from Fathers Rights’ campaigners – as a system that marginalizes men, patronizes women and denies children time with their dads.
The last time the Conservatives were in power they vetoed parental leave making the UK the last member state in the European Union to implement the Parental Leave Directive.
While Labour can be credited for the introduction and extension of longer parental leave rights for women, it defied calls for equal treatment from Fatherhood experts for over a decade and chose to deny men equal parental leave rights.
As a result, the UK’s parental leave system ranks 14th out of 21 developed countries according to the 2010 Family Fairness Index which revealed that dads get an unfair deal.
The index, produced by the Fatherhood Institute, states:
“Our leave system is neither generous nor egalitarian. The difference between men’s and women’s entitlements in the UK is particularly large [and] we have been slow to make leave for fathers financially viable. This differential in entitlement acts as a major driver of gendered responsibility in earning and caring.”
Announcing plans to reform this unfair system of parental leave Mr Clegg said:
“Right now, when a child is born, fathers are entitled to just a paltry two weeks of paternity leave. These rules patronise women and marginalise men. They’re based on a view of life in which mothers stay at home and fathers are the only breadwinners. That’s an Edwardian system that has no place in 21st-century Britain.”
Mr Clegg says that children suffer as result of a system that denies children valuable time with their children.
“Children suffer, often missing out on time with their fathers. Time that is desperately important to their development. We know that where fathers are involved in their children’s lives they develop better friendships, they learn to empathise, they have higher self esteem, and they achieve better at school.
“And men suffer too. More and more fathers want to play a hands on role with their young children. But too many feel that they can’t. It’s madness that we are denying them that chance.”
The move is in line with a commitment made in the Coalition’s new Equalities Strategy to promote shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy.
Today’s announcement will come at the launch of a new report on parenting in Britain by the left-of-centre think tank Demos which will include a “Big Society” recommendation to direct money to train community organisers to help parents set up new neighbourhood groups and may include recommendations to train frontline staff to be more effective in engaging fathers.
Previous research by Demos/YouGov found that take up of paternity leave is growing, and more than half (55 per cent) of fathers have taken it. Of those who haven’t, 88 per cent would have liked to. Nearly half (49 per cent) could not afford to, and 19 per cent were either too busy or felt their employer would not be happy if they took it.