Shared Parental Leave is definitely a step in the right direction but I believe it was a missed opportunity, a bit of a whitewash by a Tory-led coalition Government. At PTS we believe you will only ever have equality outside of the home once you have equality inside the home so paternity leave starts to address this. The problem with Shared Parental Leave is that it doesn’t tackle the underlying reasons why men won’t take paternity leave – these are the gender pay gap which is 19% – at a time when you are completely broke the person who earns the most is likely to stay in work and that’s likely to be the father. The other reason are the patriarchal values which pervade our society. The traditional nuclear family, with men as the “leaders” and women as the “nurturers,” is still incredibly prevalent. Looking after children is seen as ‘unmanly’. This can also mean that if men ask to have time off to look after their children then their employer thinks they are not committed. Only 40% of men take their 2 weeks paternity leave. The Government reckons that between 2 – 8% will access SPL.
To create real change the Government need to invest resources rather than just saying the option is there for fathers if they want it. If we look at the Swedish model we can see that investment works. Sweden implemented Shared Parental Leave in the seventies and quickly realised that they needed to do more if they wanted childcare to be the responsibility of both parents rather than just the mother. They now offer 3 months paternity leave paid at 80% of the fathers salary. This leave is non transferable so if the father doesn’t take it then he loses it. In Sweden 90% of fathers take at least 3 months paternity leave. In Sweden the gender pay gap is below average, the Nordic region consistently ranks highest on the global gender parity charts, which grades nations on bridging gender gaps in political and economic empowerment. Sweden ranks number 6 out of 151 countries for wellbeing.
A recent report by the Women and Equalities committee said that if we could make men and women’s productivity and employment equal it would be worth £600 billion to the economy – this neatly demonstrates the huge potential for growth in the UK if the Government had the courage and the vision to invest in change.
We believe properly paid paternity leave would help solve the gender pay gap, would help reduce pregnancy and maternity discrimination, it would create happier families and a stronger economy.