Brits Getting Cold Feet on Proposals to Increase Fathers’ Parental Leave

Parental leave for fathers in the United Kingdom is coming under fire as being too expensive to businesses.  Read about it here (The Telegraph, 1/30/11). This coming April, regulations will change to allow fathers to use up to six months of their female partner’s parental leave.  Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat Nicholas Clegg, recently proposed extending that to 10 months in 2015.  Women currently are allowed 12 months parental leave paid at three different levels; men are allowed two weeks. Now the employment law consulting firm, NorthgateArinso has calculated that the new rules coming into effect this April would add about £14.6 million in increased administrative costs and temporary hires to fill in for those on paternity leave. 
NorthgateArinso estimates that, if Clegg’s proposal were put into effect in 2015, it would cost employers an additional £15.4 million, for a total yearly increase of about £30 million. Given that both plans do nothing more than allow fathers to use part of mothers’ leave, it’s hard for me to understand why it would cost employers anything.  That is, whatever the case, there will only be one employee off work at a time.  Neither plan increases the time employees will take off. Still, I accept the figures at face value because I really have no way of analyzing the impact of parental leave myself. My only points are simple and straightforward.  First, £30 million isn’t much.  It’s about a single pound for every working person in the country.  Now, I readily acknowledge that British workers, like those in this country are under heavy pressure to compete with labor in low-wage countries.  Therefore, every increase in labor cost for industry is further encouragement to them to pull up stakes and move.  But the simple fact is that one pound per person is not going to run any employer out of the U.K. Second, if the idea that parental leave hurts business is to be raised at all, it needs to be raised against all parental leave, not just the dads’ side of it.  Personally, I don’t think it’s much of an argument at all, but if someone wants to complain about  parental leave, he/she needs to be frank and oppose leave for both sexes. That brings me to the third point which is that those who claim that leave is too expensive for business to bear don’t make the gender-neutral argument because, if they did, the question would immediately arise, “who’s going to take care of the kids?”  After all, if leave policy is all about keeping British businesses competitive, then neither parent should get leave, but someone has to care for the children. And how’s that going to sit with British parents?  What government is going to say to mothers “you just had a baby, but you need to put it down and get back to work?”  I wouldn’t want to run for election on that platform and I don’t imagine too many British politicians relish the idea either. The simple fact is that parental leave is an attempt to address another important issue in the country – connecting parents to children.  We all know that parents face the work-life balance.  How much time do they spend at work and how much with their families?  There are various ways to address that.  In the U.S. we, for all practical purposes, don’t have parental leave.  That policy has certain effects on employees and businesses.  It keeps labor costs low, but forces parents to shift for themselves. In practice, that tends to mean that mothers adjust to parenting while fathers continue as the main support of the family.  As numerous studies show, mothers who take much time off for childcare lose salary, benefits and an employment track record.  Fathers who end up doing the majority of the earning while mothers are caring for children lose time with their sons and daughters. In other words, there are real costs to the way we “deal with” child care in this country.  Call them social costs if you wish, but they’re real.  Child care isn’t free regardless of who does it or how it’s done. Finally, fathers and mothers should have the opportunity at equal parental leave time.   Unequal parental leave is a clear statement by Britain’s political classes that fathers aren’t as important as mothers and that they don’t care as much about their children as do mothers.  That statement needs to change.  Allowing a certain amount of time that parents can divide up themselves according to their own wishes makes sense.  Not all families are alike and government can’t and shouldn’t prescribe for them how they should behave.  Equal rights don’t always mean equal outcomes and mothers and fathers must be left to decide for themselves how they want to care for and bond with their new babies. The wellbeing of British society will be immeasurably enhanced by not penalizing parents who want to spend time with their children just after they’re born.  Both children and parents will benefit. The cost of not doing that will be far greater than £30 million a year

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