The Daily Mail gets it wrong again

Parents and child - Some rights reserved by Ed YourtonThe Daily Mail still doesn’t ‘get’ the Liberal Democrats, although many of us take that as evidence that we must be doing something right.

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 a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames and is a member of Federal Conference Committee.

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17 Comments

  • Ian Eiloart 6th Aug '13 - 12:04pm

    “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.”

    I’m not sure how those two things are different. Can you say exactly which part the Mail got wrong there?

    Granted, they deliberately fail to explain our policy making process, but I don’t see from this article that they’ve misinterpreted the proposal.

  • Daniel Henry 6th Aug '13 - 12:12pm

    A lot of the confusion I’ve seen from people on Facebook is whether the “use it or lose it” means “all or nothing”.

    E.g. If the father can’t afford to take the full month off, can they take two weeks of it?
    Or is it, as the Mail interprets, a matter of take the whole month or get none of it?

    Surely we want it to be the former to give families maximum choice and flexibility?
    The latter would be trying to use the state to force cultural change, something many of our members will be uncomfortable with.

  • Ian Eiloart 6th Aug '13 - 12:14pm

    Hmm, on further consideration, I guess you’re saying that the remaining leave (say five months of a six month entitlement, or whatever it is) can still be used, even off the immediate month isn’t used. The policy paper isn’t clear about that, so it’s not surprising that some people have misinterpreted it.

  • Clear Thinker 6th Aug '13 - 12:21pm

    Does anyone actually believe that LibDem policy is decided at conference?

  • Alex Harvey 6th Aug '13 - 12:28pm

    But how will this affect house prices?

    Half-Dutch Clegg must inform us now, instead of cosying up to the Leninist BBC!!!

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th Aug '13 - 1:45pm

    ” Use it or lose it” – I think parental leave should be decided by parents and not enforced by any Government. Even if Nick didn’t come up with the policy, I think we know by now that it’s the sort of madcap idea he would back.

    It just sounds illiberal to me, notwithstanding the impracticality for most people outside the high earning London-centric parental circle. I’m afraid the Daily Mail may caricature the idea but that’s because it is ripe for caricature.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Aug '13 - 2:42pm

    Helen Tadcastle
    You’re obviously not above a bit of self-caricature… What in the name of the Great Blue-footed Booby is “the high earning London-centric parental circle”? Is this a code word for the “illoomin-at-eye”? Another way of saying “the 1%” (aka “the 3vil rich”)? Or just a made-up group to slap Nick Clegg round the face with, very Daily Mail stylee?

    The policy does sound rather prescriptive as described here – a bit “let’s try to make Sensitive (Liberal) New Men out of every man” – but can we give the tired old idea that no one in the provinces or on a moderate income could possibly afford to take a month or two of paternal leave a rest? It just ain’t true, it’s patently obvious that it ain’t true, and just because you can’t imagine wanting or being able to take advantage of it yourself doesn’t mean it’s wrong to make it available to others.

  • Malcolm Todd 6th Aug '13 - 2:43pm

    Alex Harvey
    “But how will this affect house prices?
    Half-Dutch Clegg must inform us now, instead of cosying up to the Leninist BBC!!!”

    Another request for a “Like” button on LDV is in order!

  • David Allen 6th Aug '13 - 3:45pm

    To quote the Mail sub-headline directly:

    “Lib Dems are proposing huge changes to paternity love (sic!)
    Under the plans, new fathers could be forced to take a month’s paid leave
    But campaigners say plans remove flexibility for parents”

    The bit about forcing fathers to take leave is deliberately designed to make us look crazy. In the small print, the Mail acknowledges the real, non-daft policy: “fathers would be made to take a four-week block of paid leave in the first year of a baby’s life, or lose their entitlement altogether.”

    (In case even this sounds a bit bossy, consider what Non New Man would do if it wasn’t in the policy. Why, wait until the kids were old enough to look after themselves, and then take a month’s paid leave to play golf, of course!)

    So amongst all Mail readers, this policy announcement will have cost us votes, through no fault of our own.

  • Helen Tedcastle 6th Aug '13 - 6:47pm

    @ Malcolm Todd: Hardly. I think differently to you – I don’t think ‘use it or lose it’ paternity is a priority. Neither do I think that it is necessary. Leave it to the parents to decide how much paternity leave is affordable and practical. I think this is an area which couple decide what’s best.

    And yes, I think there is a disconnect between the Richmond and Putney chattering classes and the rest .

    When food banks are being set set up in my area to help those in work on low incomes, this plan is sheer luxury thinking. How about spending more time planning for the creation of a lot more jobs and apprenticeships instead?

  • Helen

    Well said!

    The last point on jobs is particularly pertinent.

    How many of the ‘million jobs’ created ( already undermined by the manipulation of the data) have no contracted paid hours ( the so-called zero hours ) and what will this do for social cohesion.

    People having jobs is a good thing but these sort of jobs are being subsidised by the social security budget – obviously those in receipt are scroungers!

  • Helen wrote “How about spending more time planning for the creation of a lot more jobs and apprenticeships instead?”

    How about we can do two things at once – work up policy on social issues AS WELL as work on economic policies. ..

  • Usual Mail form, “Jings ain’t it awful” headline which all their readers will get followed by the actual facts at the bottom of the small print by which time most of their readers will have moved on to the next JAIA headline. That way they cover themselves without alerting most of their readers to the facts.

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Aug '13 - 11:17pm

    @Helen Tadcastle

    If this were a policy that cost public money that could otherwise be spent on supporting the poorest, then you’d have a point. (Though “but you could spend that money on the poor” isn’t always a conclusive argument; Jesus had a line about that, I seem to recall…) But as far as I can see it doesn’t. Are you in fact objecting to anybody coming up with a policy that isn’t whatever you care most about even if it doesn’t do any harm to those you care most about? That’s just silly.

  • Malcolm Todd 8th Aug '13 - 11:24pm

    Oh, and: “I think there is a disconnect between the Richmond and Putney chattering classes and the rest ” — that’s hardly the point, is it? The point — well, my point — is that you seem to imagine that paternal leave is something that’s only of use or concern to “the Richmond and Putney chattering classes”, whoever exactly they are (they’re certainly not me). That’s what’s ridiculous about your reference to “the high earning London-centric parental circle”. It suggests you’ve just decided to be against anything that Nick Clegg’s for or that you can’t personally see any point to, and you therefore characterise as being somehow a plot by those frightful rich people to do the rest of us down, or something.
    I’ve no idea who lives in Richmond and Putney, by the way. Are you better acquainted with these high earning chattering parents than I am?

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