According to the headline today Clegg tells new dads they must take a month off or get nothing: Deputy PM wants to follow Scandinavia’s lead to make sure fathers play a bigger role in childcare, Nick Clegg and the party have apparently already adopted a policy that is to be debated in Glasgow next month.
So this presents us with another opportunity to explain how policy making works, or is supposed to work, in the Liberal Democrats. A year or so ago the Federal Policy Committee set up a policy working group, chaired by the inestimable Claire Tyler, to look at work/life balance. They took evidence from a wide range of experts and organisations and have now published their policy paper entitled A Balanced Working Life: Policies for Low and Middle Income Households (pdf).
This paper contains a number of significant new proposals, including a formal mechanism for moving towards a official living wage, an increase in free childcare to cover under twos, the introduction of Carer’s Leave for workers with caring responsibilities, and a variety of proposals to help small businesses to provide family-friendly practices.
The Daily Mail, typically, ignores all these worthy ideas and focuses on the one proposal that it considers outlandish, namely:
Government should improve the affordability, quality, convenience and provision of childcare by: …
e) Introducing a use-it-or-lose-it ‘Daddy Month’ based on the Swedish model, to encourage uptake of parental leave amongst fathers.
The Mail disingenuously implies that if fathers do not take advantage of one month leave immediately after the birth of their child they will lose all entitlements to parental leave; this is not the case. As I read it, one month of the total parental leave would have to be taken by the father immediately after the birth whereas the remaining leave could still be taken flexibly.
The recommendations of the working group, including this one, will be debated in a motion on the afternoon of Saturday 14th September. As usual, amendments will probably be proposed and requests for separate votes on individual lines; in other words, the motion will be subjected to scrutiny and debate by the members of the party and there is no guarantee that it will be accepted in full.
I mention this simply to explain to any Daily Mail readers who may be reading this, that Nick Clegg was not directly involved in drawing up this policy paper. The Federal Policy Committee, and the policy working groups that it sets up, act independently of the Leader.
Now it is highly likely that Clegg does approve of the main proposals in the paper, since issues of child care and family life have been dear to his heart; after all he was the person who introduced shared parental leave and increased the entitlement to free child care. But as usual the devil is in the detail and there could be genuine disagreements between party members over some of the specifics.
* Mary Reid is the Tuesday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.