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Nick Clegg: We are making sure parental leave can be shared as mothers and fathers see fit

October 26, 2014 1:01 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has written the following article for Mumsnet, in response to comments made regarding his announcement on equalising paternity and maternity pay in the civil service.

Nick announced this week that fathers in the civil service who choose to share parental leave with their partners will be entitled to the same paternity pay as mothers.

You can have your say on the new paternity pay system here.

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In his article for Mumsnet, Nick writes

Let's bankrupt Britain's businesses and, once we're done, burn the buildings to the ground.

This is what you might have thought I'd said last week, if you saw some of the reaction to my plans to increase fathers' rights when it comes to shared parental leave.

From now on the Civil Service will pay the same to fathers who take parental leave after their babies are born as it pays mothers who do so.

Let's be clear: we are not doubling the leave and pay that is available, we are just making sure it can be shared between mothers and fathers as they see fit. Whether it's mums or dads who take the leave, they'll receive equal pay - and we'd like businesses to follow suit.

A significant change, yes, but highly controversial? I didn't think so, until I saw the outrage it prompted from parts of the right wing press.

Such a step, they declared, will be 'crippling' to taxpayers and business. But why, when there is no extra cost to the economy attached? For every day a man spends at home, a woman will be back at work, so what's the problem?

What the critics are really saying is that companies can afford to lose a woman for a few months, but they can't afford to lose a man. The message is loud and clear: women, we don't need you. Or, at least, we don't need you as much.

What utter rubbish - and a sorry glimpse into the dated misogyny that still stalks part of the British establishment. It feels ridiculous for me to even write in this article that women are as valuable to their employers as their male counterparts - of course they are! - and yet it seems the flamingly obvious still needs to be said.

Thankfully the dinosaurs and naysayers are not reflective of the country at large. The broader reaction was much more positive. Indeed, many businesses understand the difference a contented, valued workforce can make to their bottom line.

Where I do agree that there are legitimate questions to be asked is on the issue of take up. From next spring we are radically transforming Britain's leave rules. For the first time ever parents will have a legal right to divvy up between them the year off that is available after a baby is born, in whichever way they see fit - a far cry from the previous system, under which women were given a year and men a paltry two weeks. But we need to encourage fathers to take advantage of this new right.

Better pay arrangements will help. Many men are reluctant to take time off when their children are born, discouraged by the raised eyebrows of their bosses and colleagues. But they are also put off by the drop in earnings they'd face - especially if they're the bigger earner. That's why the Civil Service will make it more affordable for fathers to make this choice, and we want as many companies as possible to do the same. In government again the Liberal Democrats would also introduce a "daddy month" - a new, additional use-it-or-lose block of time for new dads to stay at home. We know more men want to be more involved with their children home and, crucially, we know the difference it makes to a child's development when they do.

As more and more couples enjoy these new rights, I hope we'll see another big benefit too - helping us tackle the pay gap, which still stands at women, on average, being paid 20% less than men. It's after children are born that the gap really begins to grow, with women being passed over for promotion or else moving into part time work. But if both sexes are equally likely to take time out of their career to look after young children, and if both are equally likely to go part-time to help them juggle work and home - employers won't have an excuse for letting women fall behind.

So the only thing that will be "crippled" by new, fairer leave rules is the outdated assumption that women should be in the kitchen while men bring home the bacon. There is certainly still a lot more to be done before mothers and fathers enjoy real equality of choice, and we won't get there overnight. But we won't get there at all if the everyday misogynists get their way. So long as my party has a say over things, they won't.