Some thoughts on Labour’s plans for paternity leave

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As you may have heard, the Labour party made a pre-election pledge yesterday. If it wins the forthcoming general election, it has vowed to double paternity leave from two to four weeks and increase statutory paternity pay. Presently capped at £138.18, it would increase to a maximum of £260.

At this point I have to make a declaration. I was given the honour of appearing on Channel 4 news last night to discuss and debate this issue with Lynne Burnham of campaign group Mothers at Home Matter and none other than legendary news reporter Jon Snow (see video recording below).

It’s no secret that I have disagreed with Mothers at Home Matter in the past. The two of us are unlikely to agree on much but it was all very cordial in the Green Room prior to going on air and I was very pleased to hear Lynne acknowledge that dads do in fact have a role to play in a child’s early years (it’s how much of a role we’ll never agree on).

Getting back to the matter in hand, what about this proposed policy? I personally think it is very easy to over-think what the Labour party has put forward. In very simple terms I believe it addresses three major failings in the present paternity leave system;

1. It recognises the majority of dads want to play a practical, hands on role in their offspring’s early years. It also acknowledges that fathers are increasingly involved as parents.

2. It will make paternity leave affordable for many more men who are in employment. I know of men that had to forego their paternity leave and take holiday entitlement because their employer only paid the statutory minimum of £138.18 a week and this barely covered the mortgage / rent.

3. I suspect this was unintentional, but it addresses one of the great maternity taboos; childbirth is rarely straightforward. Mum frequently needs time to physically recover and sometimes baby does too. If a woman has a Caesarean section or forceps delivery or if the baby needs to spend time in a special care baby unit, two weeks is a pitiful length of paternity leave.

On this final point I speak with some personal experience. Neither of my wife’s deliveries was straightforward. I was needed at home to keep things running and if I’d had to return to work after two weeks the stress levels would have been immeasurable (I had pre-arranged to take an entire month off using a mix of paternity leave and holiday entitlement).

Needless to say, this policy would come with a cost. The Institute for Public Policy Research has estimated the cost, much of it being met by business, would be around £150million a year. I’ve got huge sympathy with employers as there’s no escaping this is yet another cost they would be contributing towards. Unfortunately, however, I think doing the right thing sometimes has a price tag and on this occasion it can’t be avoided.

The coalition Government’s shared parental leave rules, which come into force in April, are a major step in the right direction. Its attempts to reform the system are to be welcomed and with the relevant laws in place, the debate seemed to be shifting to address the issue of paternity pay (see the remarks made by Justine Roberts of Mumsent in this blog post. The remarks were made at an event I attended last November that was co-hosted by Mumsnet and the Confederation of British Industry).

I have to be entirely honest; I struggle to see Ed Milliband as Prime Minister. I’m still not convinced he’s acceptable to many of the electorate. Even so, this policy announcement has generated huge debate and interest. It’s certainly a very digestible policy and it will be very interesting to see how Labour’s rivals respond. I will be watching with interest.

27 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Labour’s plans for paternity leave”

  1. I think you’ve got to the crux of the issue here. Childbirth can be unpredictable and require a good deal of extra support. I took all the leave I could to lengthen my paternity leave including some unpaid leave but of course this has an impact for the following weeks and months (that can also present no end of unexpected challenges). There is a cost to businesses but parents who have their heads elsewhere will also have a cost to companies.

    1. It’s a good point Dan, a parent who is at work worrying about the family is unproductive. Nick Clegg said as much when I met a couple of months back. Roll onMay, let’s see what ahppens!

  2. Well done mate and nice appearance on the big screen. I personally think this is a step in the right direction, but not yet enough – for a dad to go on statutory paternity leave for 4 weeks for less than a grand would (I imagine) be difficult for a lot of families. Still, it is better than the 2 weeks and the nearly doubling of the pay does help. I’ve been with my little one every single day since she was born and I wouldn’t change it for the world – I hope more dads get the opportunity to spend a decent length of time with their new family.

    1. Big screen? You should have seen the size of the screen I was sat in front of!! It was fun and with no preparation time, I hope I came across well. I also hope more dads get to spend more time with their new families, be it under a Labour or other Government.

  3. Well done, John. I thought you put forward your views very well, both in screen and on paper. Setting aside politics, I think it’s important to recognise that this is a step in the right direction and that the proposed cost of £150m is, relatively speaking, a drop in the ocean.

    I do have sympathy for businesses, particularly smaller ones, but a lot of flexibility is required already to cover maternity leave and mothers seeking to return to work part-time afterwards (as my wife has done after each of our three kids) and I don’t see this as becoming the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    Most important of all, as you put so clearly, it *is* important to recognise that dads have a role to play in supporting mums, particularly after difficult childbirths. It’s not something that all men need or want to do, but it’s important that we have the choice to do so if we so wish without incurring financial penalty.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Tim. I agree with all your points! This policy would provide increased choice for families and dads and that would be a very positive step indeed.

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  5. I think you and Lynne agree on more than you think you do! The ‘debate’ on C4 didn’t really get off the ground because both of you value the care PARENTS give their children. The trouble with policies like the one Milliband is suggesting is that it really just tinkers around the edges of the problems families face in the long term which are that the costs of living (and housing in particular) have risen so high that family life can only be sustained if there are two wages coming in, and that single-earner families suffer a much higher tax burden than dual-earner families (who are simultaneously offered more subsidised childcare and can keep their Child Benefit when the household has TWICE the income of a single earner family).
    Your blog is clearly about valuing the care a parent can give to a child in the LONG TERM. A fortnight at the beginning is small recompense for a work culture in which long hours and two parents out at work while an underpaid ‘carer’ looks after the children are now considered not only ‘the norm’ but the precise definition of ‘a hard working family’. Lynne and others at Mothers at Home Matter campaign to raise the status of all parents who care (or wish they could care) at home. What we really lack is the CHOICE to do so if we wish! There’s much more to ‘Family Friendly’ policy than just childcare and parental leave, and I for one would welcome any party who’s willing to admit that.

    1. Thank you for your comment Mel. I note that according to the Mothers at Home Matter website you are committee member of the organisation and I feel this needs to be stated for my readers’ benefit.

      I had drafted a lengthy reply to this comment, but I have decided to keep it very brief indeed. I believe fathers can add huge value to the family unit in the earliest days and they should be encouraged to do so.

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  7. Well done, you did fabulously! I agree with you entirely, I had a difficult birth with complications and it was so hard when hubby had to return to work so quickly after. Thanks for linking up to #TheList x

    1. Thanks, I think the point about women needing time tp recover after the birth is vital. It is so often overlooked and dads rightful place in these circumstances is at home.

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  10. I’ve read a lot on this over the past few days and it has just hammered home how different it is elsewhere in the world.

    I had my first baby when we lived in the UK and through a mix of paternity and holiday my husband was off for 3 weeks without impacting our finances or leave entitelment later in the year. Invaluable as the first 4 days I wasn’t even at home but in hospital and I needed help having had a c section.

    This time round I’m having my second baby in Dubai. Where maternity leave is 45 CALENDAR days. And paternity leave is generally unheard of. Again I’m lucky as I am a stay at home mum. But I will need my husband home to help with the toddler and the potential c section. We have worked out, that with the 3 days compassionate leave my husbands company will give plus holidays (of which we have a finite amount and we need to use to fly back to the uk) we are up to 3 weeks. Which again I will need The help wiTh. And probably longer (so my mum is flying out)

    I think any proposed increase is good for families. For bonding. For help.

    I also think it will also be a mass cause for debate probably because it is such an emotive subject.

    Your post handled this sensitively and I think it’s beautifully written.

    Wow this was longer than I intended!!

  11. Great on topic post. Very thought provoking. I think this is the right step into a positive direction. I do see a lot of hurdles to face on it and I don’t think it’s something that will be achieved within the next election if labour do get in. Is it just a buzz topic that evokes votes? I don’t know. As for Miliband being Prime minister I again don’t know. As always it’s difficult to determine truth amongst campaign at this time in politics.

    Good job though mate in the C4 interview

  12. John I’m so proud of you, you didn’t let the cameras phase you, you stood your ground, one that I am firmly in support of too and came across so eloquently.

    I had 2 c-sections, an emergency and an elective I was advised to have, and I needed my husband by my side in those early weeks but rightly so as you said, even for those who have standard births, the support of a partner in those early weeks and months with the hormonal changes and the sleep deprivation, is crucial.

    That child-father bond is vital too. It really does feel on some level rather sexist that this hasn’t been acknowledged properly before (other European countries have better paternity leave that we do) and I must admit I scoffed at her suggestion of 18 years whereby the father chooses the 4 weeks in that epic timeframe (please)- you are right, giving men that option for the first 4 weeks, the most critical time for the mother and child is what matters.

    I am so deeply impressed by you John and your words will most definitely resonate with men and women all over the UK. Thank you.

    1. I warn you, a lump is dangerously close to forming in my throat Vicki! Thank you ever so much. You have, of course, made the most important observation of all; this is not a poloicy that will solely benefit men. It is a polict that has the potential to benefit the entire family. It’s a very clever statement the Labour party has made and I think it has put the other parites on the back foot.

  13. Although I am unfamiliar with the way things are across the pond, I do know that leave for men here in the states is almost unheard of, and the time off that woman get is very short unless you work for a company that provides extra time-off. My wife decided to use personal leave time in addition to the time she was given thru her company. I was working and actually quit my job early as to be able to help take care of my pregnant wife before my twins were born. Had it not been for the extra time off she used (at partial pay) she would have missed out on any time with our 2nd son who spent the first 2 months of his life in the NICU.

    1. I’m glad someone based in the US has commented on this piece. As much as we in the UK are forever demanding “more” from our social security system, we have ot keep in mind other systems are considerably less generous. Even so, your comment highlights how important a good mat / pat leave system is and why it needs to be flexible. Thanks for commenting.

  14. That’s awesome buddy! Well done. Thought you came across really well and you made your point (which is extremely important point) strongly. Good work!

    1. Thanks Al. I had very little preparation time and dashed straight to the srudio from the play park so glad to hear you think I came across well.

  15. Adventures of a Novice Mum

    Wonderful that you got the invite to the TV discussion! I’ve got a few questions for you:

    Why don’t you get along with Mothers at Home Matters and why don’t you think Ed Milliband is acceptable to his electorate?

    I agree that the Shared Parenting Leave rules are definitely in the right direction and I’m hoping that it’s not just paternity leave pay that labour intends to be double if they win, but also maternity leave pay. I need to read up more on this.

    Thanks for writing about this very important issue. #TheList

    1. Thanks for commenting. I have several issues with Mothers at Home Matter. I have no doubt it and its members have the best intentions, but feel they are misplaced and outdated. I would have a great deal more time for an organisation called ‘Mothers Matter’. The widowed / divorced / seperated mother probably doesn’t have the luxury of spending much time at home. I also feel the idea of structuring the tax system so women can spend time at home would have unintended consequences (ie you would potentially end up penalising the man / woman whose spouse deserted them / divorced them or if they were widowed). The is before I get on to the organisation’s stance towards men. The suggestion men have little / no role to play in the child’s early years goes against so much accepted theory and practice. It is also offensive to the smal but growing number of men such as myself who, like many women, have sacraficed a career to run the household and look after the kids.

      As for Miliband, this post was simply about Labour party policy. To balanace it out a but, let me say that I look at the present selection of Westminster leaders and despair. The other week I was invovled in an event with former Labour cabinet minister David Lammy and I have to say he was very, very impressive. I could liseten to him talking about parenting and fatherhood all day. Anyway, I must get on!

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