Give dads better rights says centre-left think tank

121018_bs_fatherandsonFathers need to be given greater parental leave rights if we are to tackle fundamental inequalities between men and women according to a new report on parenting by the centre-left think tank, IPPR.

The news comes as the Lib Dems prepare to reveal plans to increase men’s parental leave entitlement from two weeks to four weeks.

At the tail end of the 20th Century mothers and fathers had very little access to parental leave. This has changed dramatically in the past decade.

In 2006  New Labour introduced a parental leave system that was described by  Duncan Fisher, a former commissioner with the  Equal Opportunities Commission as  “one of the most unequal parenting leave entitlement regimes in the world”.

In 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised to reform this system saying the laws on parental leave marginalise dads and deny them the chance to play a hands-on role.

While the Coalition government has made reforms to the system it still  discriminates against fathers. According to Ben Moxham at the TUC “the incentives in place for fathers are so poor that even the government estimates that only 2 to 8 per cent of dads are likely to take this leave”.

The Lib Dems now say that: “We believe men and women have equal rights when it comes to working and raising children.”

This is a somewhat meaningless statement as mums and dads don’t have equal rights and the Lib Dems proposal to increase paternity leave from two weeks to four weeks falls way short of equality.

According to the IPPR, a progressive system “would not only provide the mother with a leave entitlement sufficient to protect her health and that of her baby, but would also support a similar paid entitlement for fathers. A third bloc of shared parental leave, also paid, could be split by parents in a way that works best for them and their family.”

The Icelandic system is held up as an example to aspire to, where from 2016 parents will be given five months of maternity leave, five months of paternity leave and two months of parental leave for parents to use as they see fit

“This is a far cry from the UK’s current parental leave provision: a year-long maternity leave (paid at a relatively low rate), two weeks of paid paternity leave, and a period of transferrable leave (up to six months, which can be transferred fromthe mother to the father),” says the IPPR.

“Allowing the mother to transfer leave to the father in this way reflects strong assumptions about maternal and paternal needs and responsibilities. It also means that fathers don’t have their own entitlement to paternity leave – they are dependent on the eligibility of their partner.”

Last week, the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said dads needs better paternity pay, saying:

“Unless the government raises statutory paternity pay, which is set too low, many dads simply won’t be able to afford time off work. In countries where paternity pay is higher, fathers play a greater role in their kids’ early lives.”

However, opposition to giving dads better rights is strong. According to Duncan Fisher:

“A business lobby, keen to ensure men do not bow to domestic responsibilities as women have to, and the maternal lobby, keen for mothers to remain in charge in the home, combined forces in an unholy alliance, and this Government, like its predecessors, was no match for the pincer movement from both sides.”

And yet parental leave is one area where the men’s and women’s lobbies could be working together as greater equality for dads at home means greater equality for women at work. As the IPPR puts it:

“Unless fathers are given greater rights to paid parental leave, more fundamental inequalities will persist.”

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