Swinson and Willott hail start of shared parental leave – but this isn’t the end of the work to be done on this issue

I’ve always said that shared parental leave is one of those policies that ticks all the stronger economy, fairer society and opportunity for everyone b boxes. It’s an entirely liberal thing to give people the choice as to what is right for them and their family rather than have the state dictate it for you.

Today is the day that this policy, first passed at Liberal Democrat conference in 2009, becomes a reality. Jo Swinson, the Minister who took the legislation through Parliament, had this to say:

This is a momentous step forward for families and for parents in work. Shared parental leave can make an incredibly positive difference in a child’s life and help both mums and dads make the best decisions for them and their families.

Men and women will no longer be tied to what history dictates their traditional roles should be with mum holding the baby while dad goes out to work.  Parenting is a shared endeavour and now dads have the opportunity to spend more time with their new baby in those vital early weeks.

Shared parental leave is my proudest achievement in government, and I’m delighted that it is now a reality.

The Liberal Democrats are the driving force behind this change, and we’re pushing to go further in the next parliament. We want to champion the role of dads, and triple paternity leave, giving all fathers an extra month to spend with their child.

Jenny Willott, who covered Jo’s job during her maternity leave (which came too soon for shared parental leave) added:

This is about putting men and women on an equal footing. Surely it should be up to families, rather than the state, to decide who is better placed to stay at home and look after their child.

Under the previous system, you had the ludicrous situation where even if the mum was the main earner, she would be expected to stay at home, while the dad was forced to go back to work.  That makes no sense.

Shared Parental Leave will kick-start a change where fathers feel empowered to take time off to look after their kids and not feel constrained by out-dated stereotypes.

Under the new system, the 39 weeks of paid parental leave 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.

This is a Liberal Democrat policy through and through. We believe in equality and that’s what is at the heart of this simple, yet radical change.

 Now that the legislation is in place, there is still much to do to ensure that it is a real choice for parents. There is still a certain expectation that women do the looking after the children. It would be good to see key male political and business figures act as role models on this and take the leave themselves. We also need to ensure that there is more equality been men and women’s earnings – and the work that Jo Swinson has done to close the gender pay gap, dragging the Tories to a place they really didn’t want to go.

What do you think we can do to change the culture so that more men think that this is an option that applies to them? In my experience, few of them feel comfortable with Miriam Gonzalez Durantez’s idea that men who care for children have more cojones, even if the idea would make perfect sense in their situation.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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