Thanks to new paternity leave laws, parents now have a lot more flexibility in how they can take time off work in their baby’s first year. Great news – but how many of us will actually be able to put this to good use?
Rewind 10 years and couples having a baby were in a very different position to today. Dads had no right to any paid leave and mums only got 26 weeks’.
But a series of changes over the past decade has changed all this. In 2003, men became entitled to take two weeks’ paternity leave (at the same rate of pay as lower statutory maternity) and in 2007, paid maternity was increased to 39 weeks.
Then, on Sunday, the law became even more generous. It now offers each new parent the chance to take six months off work during the first year of their baby’s life. That’s pretty impressive when, just a few years ago, only one parent was entitled to six months’ leave.
Limitations of the law
Of course, there are limitations. Even if the dad is otherwise eligible he may lose out if the mum didn’t work or had insufficient National Insurance contributions. And if she chooses not to return to work at all, dads won’t be able to get their hands on this leave.
If I were to have another baby the law wouldn’t help me either. Why? Because my partner’s self employed. Like most employment laws, this one doesn’t benefit those who work for themselves.
While that leaves me feeling a little hard-done-by, I’m not prepared to let it blacken my mood on this development. It’s not a perfect law, but it’s going some way to addressing the myriad of gender inequalities men and women encounter when they become parents.
Inequalities like women missing out on new job opportunities, not being considered for promotion, feeling like domestic slaves; men being financially burdened, not being given the same time with their baby… I could go on, but you get the picture.
An historical milestone?
In my circle of friends, it’s not uncommon for the women to earn more than the men – or to have equal ambitions. This law means it’s more practical for each family to make the arrangement that suits their individual needs, without being made to feel bad for their choices.
Whether many will choose to split their leave in this way remains to be seen, and I’ll be interested to see how employers respond to men requesting six months’ paternity leave. But if we could fast forward another 10 years, I bet that this will be a significant milestone in the history of gender equality.