UK’s Parental Leave Policy the ‘Most Unequal in Europe’

That’s according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission of the UK. As it stands now, mothers in Britain get 9 months paid maternity leave after having a child. The first six weeks is paid at 90% of full salary and the rest of the time is paid at £117.18 per week. New fathers get two weeks off. Read about it here (The Times, 3/30/09).

The Commission wants the UK to grant four months parental leave for each sex.

The British system is scheduled to change in 2010 to give mothers a full year off work. Cabinet Ministers are at loggerheads over the whole issue, with some wanting to delay the increase in maternal leave. Women and Equality Minister Harriet Harman wants the expanded maternity leave to go forward as scheduled.

All I can say is “George Orwell wouldn’t be surprised.” When the “Equality” Minister is not satisfied with the current radical inequality, and pushes for still greater inequality in parental leave policy, can the Two Minutes Hate be far behind?

Beyond that, in a country in which women lag behind men in earnings and savings, does it make sense for the Women and Equality Minister to promote policies that exacerbate that inequality? Taking long periods of time off work at a fraction of the usual salary is not calculated to plump up one’s savings account.

This has echoes in the United States. Here the same people, who bewail gender inequalities in earnings and savings loudly resist equality in parenting. The same organizations that want the federal government to set prices for labor so that “comparable” work receives equal pay, lobby frantically to restrict fathers’ rights in family courts.

To put it mildly, that doesn’t make sense. What we know from much data, particularly from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is that one of the main reasons women in this country work less, earn less and save less than men is because they take time off to care for children. If fathers weren’t so hamstrung by laws and courts that sometimes seem specifically designed to separate them from their children, women could earn more.

And so it is in the UK. It’s not just the radical inequality of parental leave that rankles, although it does. It’s that those who claim to be women’s champions actually work against their best interests. And of course, in the process, they work against fathers too. But you already knew that.

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