Opinion: Shared Parental Leave? Why Bother?

Nick Clegg’s announcement today may be overshadowed by various rows in the media, but this is an historic moment. Parents will soon be able to share 50 weeks of the 52 weeks maternity leave entitlement, and everyone will have the right to request flexible working.

Why does this matter?

Because we are wasting the talent of our women workers to such an extent that when women start a family they often take a drop in their pay, lose the opportunity for promotion or even can find themselves locked out of the labour market. About one million women are missing from the UK market  compared to best performing economies.

This is not only wasteful of half our workforce, but it is costing us. As Nick says in his speech today

In the words of the World Bank, gender equality is smart economics. It isn’t just the key to a fairer society, it’s the key to prosperity too.

Together with the right to request flexible working for everyone, parent or not, and the raising of the personal tax threshold (a policy introduced to conference by  Women Liberal Democrats by the way) we are seeing radical reforms that will allow fathers more time with their children, and mothers a chance to redress the gender pay gap which affects almost all mothers in their mid careers.

* Women Liberal Democrats aim to eliminate all discrimination based on gender. Dr Miranda Whitehead is current Chair.

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4 Comments

  • The shared parental leave is an excelent idea (I hope htey have resolved any operational issues, I haven’t checked) that will hopefully change society to be more equal.

    I’m unconvinced that the “right to request” stuff will see much effect at all.

  • Stephen Donnelly 13th Nov '12 - 8:39pm

    @Psi The right to for everyone to request flexible working mirrors the rights that some staff (i.e. Parents with children under 17) already enjoy. It is quite an effective and subtle piece of legislation because the employer has to show that it has considered the request reasonably. We have never turned one down, though we have negotiated times and days.

    Shared parental leave is a vital change. Whatever the law currently says, young women (and not so young these days) are often discriminated against because they may take maternity leave. If either partner can take leave, that major source of discrimination will be eliminated. To prevent this placing an unfair burden on small and medium sized businesses employers must be given sufficient notice so that they can plan for the absence.

  • Stephen Donnelly – I think this is a great idea and I wish it had been around when I had my children.

    However … I fear take up by men will be minimal. Maternity leave is now sufficiently normal, and management aware of the pitfalls of discrimination, that taking it is expected and career progression more self than externally limited.

    A man taking extended paternity leave will be for ever classed as second rate by the alpha males who run things. Men know this, and will see any interest in it as career suicide.

  • Dinti Batstone 14th Nov '12 - 1:11pm

    This is a huge step forward and one I’m really proud that Liberal Democrats in government have been able to deliver. Tabman is right to highlight that the challenge now is to ensure men take up their new rights, but I’m rather more optimistic than he is about the prospect of that happening.

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