Tag Archives: Paternity leave

Queen’s Speech: not many promises, but plenty of challenges

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

With the general election fast becoming a distant memory, new ministers have been appointed, the House of Commons has returned to life, and the Conservative majority government has set out its legislative plans for the first year of its five-year term. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, last week’s Queen’s Speech somehow failed even to mention the ‘hard-working families’ of which we heard so much – from politicians of all parties – during the election campaign, with even the Childcare Bill (see below) set to help “working people”. So, what can we expect the new Government to deliver in terms of ‘families and work’ policy over the next few years?

The short answer, judging by the Conservative manifesto and ministerial pronouncements to date, is ‘probably not a lot’. The manifesto was disappointingly short on policy pledges that might help ensure work actually works for all families, with no reference at all to flexible or ‘family-friendly’ working, or the need to increase the supply of good quality part-time jobs. In contrast to both the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos, there was no pledge of additional paternity leave, and no mention at all of shared parental leave. And there was nothing to suggest the new government will address the growing but largely unsupported role of grandparents in childcare.

To the surprise of some, the manifesto did of course pledge to increase the existing entitlement of free childcare for working parents of three- and four-year-olds in England, from 15 to 30 hours per week during term-time (i.e. 38 weeks per year). And, with the publication of the Childcare Bill this week, ministers are now suggesting that roll out of the increased entitlement will begin in September 2016, a “year earlier than planned”.

With costs having soared since 2010, and many parents struggling, more free childcare has to be welcome.  Indeed, as Giselle Cory of the IPPR think tank noted in the New Statesman last week, there is unlikely to be much political argument over the aim of the Bill: “childcare is a sound investment: fund it now and we’ll see the benefits for years to come, in rising levels of maternal employment, additional tax revenues, falling child poverty, and improved child development outcomes.” However, as Giselle further notes: “the rationale is simple; delivering the policy less so.” In the words of  The Economist magazine:

The [Bill] would make childcare cheaper for most families. But it would not address another problem: the shortage of places. In spite of a fast-growing population, the number of nursery places in Britain remained unchanged between 2006 and 2014, and has only just started to pick up. Growth has been stunted because nurseries are hard to run at a profit.

One reason is rising rents, particularly in London, which push up nurseries’ costs. And there is little that nurseries can cut back on: most of their employees already earn little more than the minimum wage.

But another reason is that the government underpays nurseries for the 15 hours a week that they must provide free of charge. The shortfall amounts to £800 per child per year. If the new 30-hour allowance is funded at the same miserly rate, the shortage of places could be exacerbated.

So it is welcome that the government has this week committed to “increase the average funding rates paid to providers (the hourly funding provided for each free place)”, with Department for Eduction minister Sam Gyimah set to oversee a review “before summer”, even if it is still far from clear how any increased rate would itself be funded. Ministers have so far committed only £350 million a year to fund the pledge, but the Pre-School Learning Alliance of private and voluntary providers argues this would leave a shortfall of £250m a year, on top of the existing annual shortfall of £100m. And it’s worth remembering that, as recently as December, Sam Gyimah was claiming that Labour’s  very similar but less ambitious promise to increase the free childcare allowance to just 25 hours per week would cost “at least £1.5 billion”.

Elsewhere in the Queen’s Speech, there was little cheer for struggling families – working or otherwise. The Full Employment & Welfare Bill will reduce the current household benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 per year, amid warnings that this could plunge 40,000 children into poverty. Ministers have yet to spell out where pledged cuts of £12 billion to the welfare budget will actually fall, with the well-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies warning that further cuts on such a scale will most likely either increase poverty or undermine the Full Employment & Welfare Bill’s aim to “ensure that it pays to work” by weakening work incentives. And the Enterprise Bill’s principal aim of “cutting red tape and saving businesses at least £10 billion [by 2020]” seems to offer little hope any progressive reform of maternity, paternity and shared parental leave, or of employment rights more generally.

In that context, it must be hoped that the publication – possibly later this month – by the Equality & Human Rights Commission of the findings of its £1 million programme of research into pregnancy and maternity discrimination at work, will at least prompt a ministerial rethink in relation to the prohibitively high employment tribunal fees introduced in July 2013. For all the indications are that the Commission will report such unlawful discrimination to be more common in Britain’s workplaces than ever before.

All in all, this means there remains a lot of work to do in convincing ministers of the benefits of making work work for all. Together with our partner organisations – such as the Family & Childcare Trust, Gingerbread, the Fawcett Society, NCT, and the TUC – we at Working Families will be working hard to promote the benefits of tackling low pay (including the disturbingly low rate of statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave pay), adopting a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment, extending paternity leave, and creating a new right to a period of ‘adjustment leave’ to enable families to weather a ‘life shock’ without giving up work.

We will press ministers to conduct their long-promised review of employment tribunal fees, and to consider whether further governmental action is necessary to tackle zero-hours contracts and other forms of ‘casualisation’ in the labour market – an issue highlighted in the most recent annual report of our legal advice team. And we will work to ensure that the Childcare Bill addresses the particularly acute childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled and special needs children.

 

#GE2015: what might the other parties offer working families, if part of a new coalition?

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

Previously on this blog, we have compared the manifestos of the three main Westminster parties – the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats – against our own ‘families & work’ manifesto, Making work actually work for all. In this post we look at the manifestos of: the Green Party, Plaid Cymru in Wales, the SNP in Scotland, and Ukip. For, while none of these parties has any chance of forming the next government, it is quite possible that one or more may end up as part of a coalition government or supporting a minority government. And that could mean significant influence on government policy on some issues.

Our ‘families & work’ manifesto sets out eight specific policy proposals, grouped under four headings: time; equality; money; and childcare infrastructure. Each proposal was chosen as being emblematic of what we and the member organisations of the Families & Work Group believe should be the broad thrust of policy reform in these four areas. And each offered the political parties an opportunity to demonstrate a practical commitment to our vision of work that actually works for all families and all employers.

Time

Our two proposals were:

  • Adopt a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector, so as to increase the supply of good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs; and
  • Create a new statutory right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather a crisis in their caring responsibilities without giving up work.

No such policy pledges appear in the manifestos of the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, or Ukip. Indeed, none of the four parties appears to attach any great importance to the issues of ‘flexible working’ or ‘work-family balance’ – though the Greens do pledge to “phase in a 35-hour [working] week”. None uses the term ‘flexible working’ even once.

As with the manifestos of three main Westminster parties,  this is deeply disappointing. For – as demonstrated by our recent report on the work of our legal helpline in 2014, and an important new report this week by the Child Poverty Action Group – the notion of real work-life balance choice remains a fiction for all too many low-paid parents and carers. In low-paid sectors of the economy like social care, cleaning, and hospitality, hundreds of thousands of men and especially women work in ‘casualised’ forms of employment  – such as zero-hours contracts – that offer little in the way of pay, guaranteed hours, work-life balance rights, or job security. And what Citizens Advice calls the “hyper-flexibility” of such jobs is all one way.

Even for those in more secure forms of employment, there are key gaps in the legal framework for time off work to fulfil family or other caring responsibilities, especially at times of major crisis such as the onset of disability of a child. All too many working parents are forced to rely heavily on grandparents to provide childcare. And there is a severe shortage of good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs  – a situation that puts single parents and parents of disabled children at a particular disadvantage. Yet Camden Council and others are showing that it is perfectly possible for the public sector to start addressing this shortage by adopting a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design, and the private sector should be encouraged to follow.

Equality

Our two proposals were:

  • Increase statutory paid paternity leave from two to six weeks, paid at 90 per cent of earnings; and
  • Reform and simplify shared parental leave, including making it a ‘Day One’ right for fathers.

As with flexible working and work-family balance, the issues of maternity, paternity and parental leave are barely touched upon in the manifestos of the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and Ukip. The SNP  says that it would take action to secure “greater support for parents with increased paternity leave”, but gives no further detail. The words ‘maternity’, ‘paternity’ and ‘parental’ do not appear at all in either the Plaid Cymru or the Ukip manifestos. And, while the Ukip manifesto uses the word ‘leave’ 31 times, in all but five cases this is either as part of the phrase “leave the EU” or in a reference to the immigration status of ‘leave to remain’ in the UK.

Again, this is disappointing. For, while the rate at which it is paid remains so pitifully low – less than 60 per cent of the national minimum wage (see below) – take up of the new shared parental leave is likely to be slow.  Yet it is imperative that we get fathers more involved in caring for their children, to ensure gender equality in the home as well as at work, limit the time that very young children spend in non-parental care, and reduce overall childcare costs for families. So the next government needs to work towards longer, more flexible and better paid periods of dedicated leave for fathers (and other partners).

More positively, the SNP manifesto includes pledges to “ensure that women are fairly treated at work with action to secure equal pay” and to “support the tightening of the law on maternity discrimination, with legislation introduced within the first year of a new UK government.” Similarly the Green Party pledges to “make equal pay for men and women a reality”, and to “ensure that the laws to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity pay are properly enforced”, including by “reducing employment tribunal fees so that tribunals are accessible to workers”. Interestingly, this week Business Secretary Vince Cable has admitted that the tribunal fees introduced in July 2013 were a “very bad move” that “should be reversed” as they are “discouraging people – particularly low paid women – from pursuing their [workplace] rights”. Plus there are welcome Green Party pledges to “reinstate” the funding of the Equality & Human Rights Commission, and “restore cuts to legal aid” – though it’s not at all clear how the £3.5 billion cost of the latter over five years would be funded.

The Plaid Cymru manifesto barely mentions discrimination of any kind, stating only that the party would “work closely with the Equality & Human Rights Commission to raise awareness and prevent discrimination in terms of access to employment”. However, there is a welcome pledge to “review the current levels of employment tribunal fees implemented by the UK government, whose high costs prevent workers from getting access to justice”.

Money

Our two proposals were:

  • Immediately restore the real value of statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on the annual uprating since 2013, and set out a programme of annual increases to raise such pay to at least the minimum wage within ten years; and
  • Enhance the potential of Universal Credit to ensure that work really does pay for all working families.

Sadly the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, SNP and Ukip manifestos give the rate at which maternity, paternity and parental leave is paid no more attention than they do the leave itself, though the Green Party does at least say it would “restore the link between state benefits and earnings, [and] ensure state benefits rise as fast as prices or wages (whichever grows more)”. Again, this is disappointing. At £139.58 per week, statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave pay equates to just 57 per cent of the adult national minimum wage (£243.75 for a 37.5-hour week, at £6.50 per hour), just 47 per cent of the Living Wage (£294.37 for a 37.5-hour week, at £7.85 per hour outside London), and a mere 27 per cent of the median gross weekly earnings of full-time employees (£518 in April 2014). Getting by on such a low income would be challenging at the best of times, but is especially hard when bearing all the additional costs that come with the birth of a child.

On the issue of low pay more generally, the Green Party says it would “increase the minimum wage so that it is a living wage. We propose a minimum wage target for everyone who is working in the UK of £10 per hour by 2020. In 2015, this would mean a minimum wage of £8/10 per hour generally (and £9.40 in London), saving £2.4 billion a year in tax credits and generating an additional £1.5 billion a year in income tax and National Insurance.”  Similarly, Plaid Cymru pledges to “increase the minimum wage to be the same level as the Living Wage over the next Parliament”, benefiting “more than 250,000 workers” in Wales.

The SNP says it would “vote to increase the minimum wage to £8.70 by 2020”, and that it would “support measures to extend the Living Wage across the UK” (the Scottish Government is already a Living Wage employer). Ukip has no target for the minimum wage rate, but – like the Conservatives – pledges to raise the income tax personal allowance to “at least £13,000” so as to “take those on the minimum wage out of tax altogether”. And Nigel Farage’s party promises to “enforce the minimum wage and reverse the [Coalition’s] cuts in the number of minimum wage inspectors”.

On Universal Credit (UC), the Green Party pledges to “halt implementation of the UC programme and carry out a thorough review of it structure and implementation, including the treatment of earned income, and removing conditionality”. The SNP also pledges to “halt the roll out of UC”, stating that “the current tapers for UC have been set too low, which means claimants will still be caught in the benefits trap, with clear financial disincentives in place for work … there should be an increase in the work allowance, to deliver a significant boost to the incomes of people moving into work”. And the Plaid Cymru manifesto states that “the UC system should not be implemented until a fully independent and comprehensive review is carried out”. The Ukip manifesto makes no mention of Universal Credit.

Childcare infrastructure

Our two proposals were:

  • Appoint a cabinet-level minister for childcare, to lead on developing a new national strategy aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years; and
  • Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children.

Childcare is the one issue mentioned in all four manifestos. The Green Party has the boldest ambition, with a pledge to “provide a comprehensive, nationwide system of good-quality pre-school early education and childcare, free at the point of delivery”. This would involve “building a free but voluntary universal education and childcare service for all children from birth until compulsory education age, which we would raise to 7 years”, and the party would “ensure that the system includes children’s centres for the very youngest children and their parents”. However, it is far from clear how the estimated £27 billion cost over five years would be funded.

The SNP manifesto sets out a more modest pledge – similar to that of the Conservatives and Labour – to “build on [the Scottish Government’s] current commitment to 600 hours of childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds” by “almost doubling the number of free hours to 30 hours a week of free childcare by the end of the next Scottish Parliament”.  Plaid Cymru manages only a very general promise to “aim to provide flexible and affordable childcare, particularly in deprived areas” and – while its manifesto sets out a “vision for childcare [of] a system where parents, teachers, schools, nurseries, children’s centres, local authorities, childcare providers and businesses all work together to make provision as affordable, flexible , available and as high-quality as possible” – Ukip promises only that it would “initiate a full review of childcare provision”.

While the Green Party pledges to “recognise the rights of children who are disabled, and their families, in education, the transition to adult life, [and] in childcare”, the Plaid Cymru manifesto is the only one of the seven we have examined over these two blog posts to specifically address the particularly acute childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children, stating: “We will help families with disabled children to be able to afford childcare and improve the availability of childcare for children with disabilities”.

Whoever forms the new government after 7 May, we at Working Families will be working hard to persuade ministers to follow this laudable lead.

#GE2015: What are the three main parties offering for working families?

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

Last week, as the General Election campaign reached its mid-point, a small forest of trees was lost for ever as the three main political parties – first Labour, then the Conservatives, and finally the Liberal Democrats – published their manifestos. With a combined length of 330 pages containing some 75,000 words, it would be quicker – and, believe me, a lot more pleasurable – to read, for example, both F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. So, to save you the trouble (and time), we’ve been comparing the three manifestos against our own ‘families & work’ manifesto, Making work actually work for all.

That manifesto set out eight specific policy proposals, grouped under four headings: time; equality; money; and childcare infrastructure. Each proposal was chosen as being emblematic of what we and the member organisations of the Families & Work Group believe should be the broad thrust of policy reform in these four areas. And each offered the political parties an opportunity to demonstrate a practical commitment to our vision of work that actually works for all families and all employers.

So, how do the three manifestos measure up?

Time

Our two proposals were:

  •  Adopt a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector, so as to increase the supply of good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs; and
  • Create a new statutory right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather a crisis in their caring responsibilities without giving up work.

Somewhat surprisingly, none of the three parties sets out any new proposals to support and encourage the spread of flexible working practices. Indeed, the term ‘flexible working’ is mentioned only once, and even that is just a backwards-looking reference (by the Liberal Democrats) to the Coalition’s extension of the right to request flexible working to all workers in June 2014. This is deeply disappointing, as it is abundantly clear that take-up of flexible working remains heavily gendered, and that there are simply too few good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs available – a situation that puts single parents and parents of disabled children at a particular disadvantage.

It’s also disappointing that none of the three parties has taken up the idea of a right to adjustment leave. As our recent report Off balance demonstrates, much more needs to be done to support the parents of disabled children to either stay in work or re-enter the workforce. Eight out of ten non-working parents feel that they had no choice but to give up work upon, or very soon after, the diagnosis of their child. This common all-or-nothing scenario could be avoided by allowing such parents the chance to adjust to a change in their caring responsibilities. And cost analysis carried out for Working Families indicates that a legal right to up to six weeks of paid adjustment leave for the parents of disabled children could result in a potential annual net gain to the economy of £500 million.

Equality

Our two proposals were:

  • Increase statutory paid paternity leave from two to six weeks, paid at 90 per cent of earnings; and
  • Reform and simplify shared parental leave, including making it a ‘Day One’ right for fathers.

Here there is (relatively) good news, even if it isn’t terribly new. The Liberal Democrats repeat the pledge made in their October 2014 pre-manifesto of an extra four weeks of paternity leave, to be paid at the current (ludicrously low) rate of £138 per week, and Labour confirm their February 2015 announcement of an extra two weeks, to be paid at a more respectable £260 per week (roughly equivalent to the full-time minimum wage). However, the Conservatives are silent on the issue.

Only the Liberal Democrats make any mention of shared parental leave, and even then that is mostly in relation to the Coalition’s introduction of the new scheme, rather than any future plans. However, there is a welcome statement that, “while changes to parental leave should be introduced slowly to give business time to adjust, our ambition is to see paternity and shared parental leave become a ‘Day One’ right’”. And there is a very welcome (if  vague) promise to “introduce a right to paid leave for carers”.

All three parties pledge to work to close the gender pay gap, and Labour’s separate Manifesto for Women contains a very welcome promise to “consult on allowing grandparents who want to be more involved in caring for their grandchildren to share in parents’ unpaid parental leave, enabling them to take time off work without fear of losing their job”. See this recent guest post by Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus for more on this important issue.

Money

Our two proposals were:

  • Immediately restore the real value of statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on the annual uprating since 2013, and set out a programme of annual increases to raise such pay to at least the  minimum wage within ten years; and
  • Enhance the potential of Universal Credit to ensure that work really does pay for all working families.

Perhaps not surprisingly, none of the parties makes even a nod to raising statutory maternity, paternity and parental pay towards parity with the minimum wage. This would be an ambitious policy call at the best of times, let alone when all the main parties are committed to varying degrees of further austerity in public spending. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats do at least say they would exempt maternity, paternity and parental pay from the one per cent cap on the uprating of social security benefits that they both say they would extend until April 2018. However, as noted previously on this blog, Labour’s pledge to pay statutory paternity leave at almost twice the current rate opens a door that we will work hard to open wider in the years ahead.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats pledge to complete the roll-out of Universal Credit, though neither party sets out any new ideas on how the new system might be improved. Labour is more circumspect, stating: “We support the principle behind Universal Credit – that there should be a smooth transition into work – but it must be affordable and fit for purpose, so we will pause and review the programme”. And the Liberal Democrats say they would review the sanctions regime to “ensure there are no league tables or targets for sanctions”, and would “introduce a ‘yellow card’ warning so people are only sanctioned if they deliberately and repeatedly break the rules”.

Childcare infrastructure

Our two proposals were:

  • Appoint a cabinet-level minister for childcare, to lead on developing a new national strategy aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years; and
  • Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children.

As expected, all three manifestos include a childcare offer. That of the Liberal Democrats is perhaps the most ambitious, setting out an ultimate goal of 20 hours of free childcare a week for all parents with children aged from two to four-years, and all working parents from the end of paid parental leave (nine months) to two years”. However, there is no timetable for reaching this goal.

Labour’s manifesto reiterates the party’s longstanding pledge to increase the existing entitlement of free childcare for parents of three- and four-year-olds, from 15 to 25 hours per week. And, to the surprise of many, the Conservative manifesto outbids this, with a pledge of 30 hours per week. However, with the Conservatives reportedly having costed this pledge of an extra 15 hours at just £350 million – less than half the £800 million that Labour says it would need for its extra ten hours – some critics have suggested that this pledge is simply “too good to be true”. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats pledge to implement the Coalition’s tax-free childcare scheme, set to come into force later this year, but Labour’s manifesto does not mention the scheme.

Sadly, none of the three parties makes any mention of the additional childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children. This is something that we will be working hard to remedy, whoever forms the next government.

[We will assess the manifestos of the other political parties in a future post]

Paternity leave & shared parenting: Labour boldly opens door marked ‘Do Not Open’

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

There must have been much grinding of teeth among Liberal Democrat ministers and MPs on Monday morning, as Labour leader Ed Miliband garnered acres of advance media coverage for a speech in which, it was reported, he would commit a Labour government to doubling statutory paternity leave, from two to four weeks. For, not only did the Liberal Democrats adopt an arguably more impressive pledge to treble paternity leave to six weeks as long ago as September, but – as far as I can tell – Miliband delivered no such speech on Monday.

There’s certainly no transcript of any speech, nor even a press release. But the media had clearly been given the same song sheet to sing from, with everyone from the BBC to the Daily Mail reporting that Miliband would, later on Monday, say that:

Thanks to the last Labour government, fathers have two weeks’ paid paternity leave. Millions of families have benefited, with parents saying this has helped them support each other, share caring responsibilities and bond with their children. But the money isn’t great, and too many dads don’t take up their rights because they feel they have to go back to work so they can provide for their family.

The move was largely welcomed by media commentators as a positive step in the right direction, with only the Telegraph departing violently from the script to lambast the new pledge as a “spectacularly bad” response to the Coalition’s policy of shared parental leave, which it described as “the most progressive new parent support policy that Britain has ever had.”  And, while the four in 10 new fathers who will not qualify for shared parental leave might well disagree with that assessment, the Telegraph does have a point. For, as a number of more thoughtful (and knowledgeable) analysts have noted since Monday, an extra two weeks of paternity leave does not a revolution in shared parenting make. Labour’s proposed four weeks of paternity leave would still leave the UK lagging some way behind Norway, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Iceland and Luxembourg.

Indeed, to at least one (essentially sympathetic) blogger, the move appeared to be less about progressive policy-making than creating “a headline to help persuade disaffected supporters to vote Labour in May”. And it is certainly true that there was no mention of paternity leave in last summer’s National Policy Forum report, which is supposed to form the basis of Labour’s general election manifesto. Yet the new policy, as now espoused by Miliband, was first proposed by left-leaning think tank IPPR in June last year. Curiouser and curiouser, but polling by YouGov confirms that extending paternity leave is popular with both men and women.

The employer lobby groups were not terribly impressed either, with the never knowingly understated British Chambers of Commerce grumbling that “well-meaning proposals such as this create very real costs for businesses, which can in turn lead to reduced productivity, reduced growth and fewer jobs”. Heavens above! And the Federation of Small Businesses certainly has a point when it says that “altering paternity leave so soon after introducing shared parental leave has the potential to cause confusion amongst businesses that are only getting to grips with the most recent changes [i.e. shared parental leave].”

However, as Working Families chief executive Sarah Jackson noted, “businesses need to go with the grain of modern family life,” and our research confirms there is an appetite among young fathers, in particular, to do their share of childcare. Increasing paternity and parental leave creates an opportunity for businesses to help a core group of employees “give their best at work by recognising that they also want to give their best at home.” British bosses (and their lobby groups) should perhaps heed the words of this Swedish CEO, who fully expects his male employees to “take six months off at some point during their child’s early life”, and is in no doubt that “when our employees – both male and female – take time off to be with their children, it’s good for us in the long-term”.

In any case, the real radicalism in Miliband’s announcement is not the extra two weeks of paternity leave – as welcome as that is – but his pledge that all four weeks would be paid at £260 per week, the equivalent of a 40-hour week on the minimum wage and almost double the current, shockingly low rate of £138.18 per week. Because, if Labour now considers it necessary to pay fathers at least £260 per week to get them to take their full entitlement to paternity leave, as it surely is, then the same undoubtedly applies to shared parental leave. And it is inconceivable that a future government could pay fathers £260 per week when taking shared parental leave unless it paid women at least the same when they take maternity or shared parental leave.

Perhaps unthinkingly, Labour has boldly gone where no mainstream political party has gone before. Without even delivering a speech, Ed Miliband and his advisers have erected a neon-lit question mark over the ludicrously low rate at which statutory maternity, paternity and shared parental leave are paid.

And there’s now no way to turn off the power.

 

 

Manifesto 2015: how do the Liberal Democrats measure up?

By Richard Dunstan, Working Families Blog Editor

Last week, the Liberal Democrats issued their pre-manifesto for the May 2015 General Election. While the some 300 policy pledges in the pre-manifesto will be debated and voted on by party members at their conference in Glasgow early next month, the 80-page document provides a first opportunity to assess the likely policy pledges of one of the three main parties against our own ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, issued back in May this year.

In this context, the two most eye-catching proposals are 15 hours a week of free childcare for parents of all two-year-olds, and an increase in new fathers’  entitlement to statutory paid paternity leave, from two weeks to six weeks.

Childcare

On childcare, the pre-manifesto states that the “aim [is] to make 20 hours of free childcare a week available for all parents with children aged from two to four, and all working parents from the end of paid maternity leave (nine months) to two years, by 2020” and to “start by providing 15 hours a week of free childcare to the parents of all two-year-olds” with the £800m cost to be met “by cancelling the ineffective Conservative plan to introduce a marriage allowance into the tax system, [and] then prioritise 15 hours free childcare to all working parents with children aged between nine months and two years”.

The document also pledges the Liberal Democrats to completing “the introduction of tax-free childcare, which will provide support to parents of up to £2,000 for each child and include childcare support in Universal Credit, refunding 85% of childcare costs to make sure work pays for low earners”.

This unquestionably amounts to a bold move in the childcare political bidding war, which has been hotting up in recent months. However, it still falls a long way short of the “national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years” that we call for in our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto. And the pledge to continue with the tax-free childcare scheme is disappointing. In the words of Working Families helpline adviser Will Hadwen:

The tax-free childcare scheme and Universal Credit are inequitable in the way that they treat periods of work. Tax-free childcare is not means-tested, but Universal Credit is. The barriers to parents deciding which of the two to go for remain high, and it is not at all clear how or where they will get support to make that decision.

Neither the Coalition, nor now the Liberal Democrats themselves, seem to acknowledge that the conditions for each scheme may be met at different times by the same families. That is, one month Universal Credit may be the best bet for a family and then, a few months later, they would be better off with tax-free childcare. A commitment to one system of help for childcare, outside Universal Credit, would reduce complexity and increase incentives to work.

It is also deeply disappointing that the pre-manifesto contains no reference to – let alone a specific policy pledge to address – the especially harsh childcare crunch faced by parents of disabled children, the subject of a recent parliamentary inquiry.

Paternity leave

The promise of six weeks of paid paternity leave is certainly very welcome, although it is not clear whether this ‘use-it-or-lose it’ entitlement would have to be used in the first two months after the birth. And it is disappointing that this increased leave entitlement would still be paid at the current, ludicrously low statutory rate.

All the evidence from other countries is that fathers take full advantage of paternity leave only when it is well-paid. And far too many men are not even taking their current entitlement of two weeks. Just a few months ago, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, noted that “a quarter of new fathers take only a week or less of paternity leave”. Those fathers won’t suddenly take more paternity leave just because more is available, if it’s paid at the same low rate as now.

In our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, we call for paid paternity leave to be increased from two weeks to six, but “with four of the six weeks available to be taken at any point during the child’s first year”. We also call for this to be a Day One right, and for all six weeks of this leave to be paid at 90 per cent of earnings.

Other issues

Elsewhere, the pre-manifesto contains welcome – if somewhat vague and strangely half-hearted – pledges to  “look at ways of raising the National Minimum Wage … and improve enforcement action”, to ensure that the Living Wage is “paid by all central government departments and executive agencies from April 2016 onwards”, and to “clamp down on any [sic] abusive practices in relation to zero hours contracts”.

However, there is little other than mandatory pay audits to tackle pay inequality and sex, pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace, and no mention of reforming the Coalition’s controversial employment tribunal fees. With the number of new cases down by 70%, it is now clear the fees amount to a charter for dinosaur and rogue employers, and the case for reform is overwhelming. In our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto, we suggest that the fees “must be scrapped”.

Perhaps in Glasgow next month, the party’s rank-and-file members will propel at least some of these issues into the final manifesto for May 2015.

[In forthcoming posts, we will be looking at how the likely manifesto pledges of the Conservative, Labour and other parties measure up to our ‘Families & Work’ manifesto.]

Closing the gender pay gap: equal pay audits, or more equal parenting?

By Richard Dunstan, Working Families volunteer

Recent weeks have seen renewed calls for the introduction of mandatory equal pay audits in order to close the gender pay gap, which according to the Office of National Statistics now stands at 19.7 per cent.  This follows a set-piece speech by Gloria De Piero MP, Labour’s shadow minister for women and equalities, in which she committed the next Labour government to legislate for such pay audits, and a survey report on the gender pay gap among senior managers by the Chartered Management Institute and XpertHR.

In the Guardian, noting that, at the current rate of progress, it will take another 60 years to close the gender pay gap, columnist Lauren Laverne posed the question: “We have to wait a hundred years for the 1970 Equal Pay Act to work? Are you on glue?” Meanwhile, over on the Women in Leadership pages, the first of Harriet Minter’s five proposals to end the gender pay gap was: “make reporting on pay data mandatory”. According to Minter, this would “bring an end to the madness” of “women being paid less than men”, and “guarantee a fair and equal wage for all”. And, noting the CMI/XpertHR finding that male company directors take home £21,000 more each year than their female counterparts, the Work Foundation’s Professor Stephen Bevan found it “hard to resist the conclusion that equal pay audits should now become mandatory”.

Hmmm. The problem with that line of argument is that it assumes – or, at least, conveys the message – that (a) the gender pay gap is mostly about women being paid less than men to do the same or very similar work; and (b) this is all due to wicked employers having gender discriminatory rates of pay. Accordingly – or so the argument runs – all you have do to close the gender pay gap is shame all those wicked employers into paying their staff equally by making them conduct and publish equal pay audits.

In reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that – the gender pay gap is one of those problems that’s easier analysed than solved. Discriminatory pay by employers is just one of several factors behind the gender pay gap, and is quite possibly one of the least influential, overall (which is no consolation if you are one of the all too many women subject to such discrimination). As Professor Bevan himself notes, “a range of factors are frequently shown to have strong explanatory power, including occupational segregation (and a lower societal value placed on so-called ‘women’s work’), [and] the impact of part-time working both on pay itself and the life-time accumulation of ‘human capital”, as well as “both direct and indirect discrimination”. In 2012, research commissioned by the Government Equalities Office could find only 13 ‘equal pay’ employment tribunal judgments against employers other than the NHS and local authorities in the three-year period 2009-11, and only 41 such judgments between 2004 and 2011.

Furthermore, most if not all of those calling for mandatory equal pay audits are in fact proposing only that they be mandatory for large employers – that is, those with more than 250 employees. Yet such companies employ less than 10 million (40 per cent) of the national workforce of some 24.3 million. So mandatory equal pay audits wouldn’t bring any direct benefit to the 60 per cent of the workforce employed in small and medium sized businesses. And, in the public sector, almost four in five employers (77 per cent) have already conducted an equal pay audit. The remaining one in five could surely be exhorted to do so by ministers, without creating new legislation.

Accordingly, as supportive as I am of gender equality and of tackling sex discrimination in the workplace, it’s never been entirely clear to me how or why mandatory equal pay audits would have more than a marginal impact on a complex problem. Indeed, even if such pay audits were wholly successful in eliminating gender discriminatory pay rates, a significant gender pay gap would still remain, due to the influence of other, arguably more powerful factors – not least the substantial impact on women’s earnings of taking time out of the labour market to have and care for children.

As the economist and blogger FlipChartRick highlighted last week in a must-read post, the gender pay gap is not spread evenly among women of all ages and all pay brackets. Far from it. Citing analysis by David Richter of Octopus HR, FlipChartRick argues that “the full-time pay gap at the median [pay level] has almost disappeared for those in their twenties, with women earning slightly more than men [on average] in recent years”. And “there has been a significant fall in the gender pay gap for those in their thirties”.

Moreover, while “the pay differential for those in their twenties is fairly narrow, even at the very top level [of pay], the pay gap for those over 40 is significant at all levels of the pay distribution but much higher at the top”. In short, “age and position in the earnings distribution has a significant effect on the gender pay gap. Women over 40 and in the upper income bracket earn significantly less” than their male counterparts. That is, “the gender pay gap appears just at the point in the age distribution” when many women are taking time out of the labour market to care for young children, and “children have more of an impact on women’s pay than men’s” because it is women “who take on most of the childcare responsibilities”.

FlipChartRick concludes that:

“introducing mandatory equal pay audits might yield some interesting information for pay data geeks to pore over, but I doubt that it [would] tell us much that we don’t already know, or even whether it [would] reveal some major employers to be significantly worse than others. It is unlikely that the gender pay gap will disappear until equal proportions of women and men take equal responsibility for childcare”.

In short, a more effective means of addressing the gender pay gap would be to facilitate, encourage and support more shared parenting. But this is not something you are likely to have heard from government ministers or lobby groups such as the TUC and CBI (both strong supporters of mandatory equal pay audits for large employers).

For example, in recent weeks, as part of her “mission to promote shared parental leave” – a policy reform intended to make the proportions of women and men taking responsibility for childcare more equal – the BIS minister Jo Swinson has given a number of major media interviews, including in the Evening Standard, in the Independent, and with Family Networks Scotland. However, while Ms Swinson – another strong supporter of mandatory equal  pay audits for companies with more than 250 employers – used these interviews to make much of “recognising that dads want to have a bigger role in their child’s life from the first days” and boosting parental choice, she signally failed even to mention the gender pay gap and the central role that shared parental leave (and more shared parenting) could play in closing it.

To my mind, this is a missed opportunity that reflects yet another lack of joined-up policy thinking within government. But perhaps after May 2015 both elected politicians and the relevant campaign and lobby groups will pay greater attention to the (rather obvious) link between the gender pay gap and the need for more shared parenting. And then we might just see progress on win-win policies – such as increasing the shockingly low rate of statutory maternity, paternity and parental leave pay, and increasing the amount of well paid paternity leave – that would facilitate and encourage more shared parenting and so help close the gender pay gap.

Shared parental leave: the beginning of a quiet revolution?

By Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive

Opinion seems to be sharply divided about the prospects of success for shared parental leave (SPL), due to come into force next year.

On the one hand, Business Secretary Vince Cable expresses his deep satisfaction at “having extended the right to request flexible working and introduced shared parental leave. I am convinced that these [will] help talented people manage complicated lives, and improve the quality of the workplace”, and on the other Adrienne Burgess of the Fatherhood Institute expects SPL to be “a damp squib” with “no impact on uptake by fathers and therefore … no impact on women in the workplace”.

In my view, neither Tigger nor Eeyore is likely to be right.

Let’s start with what SPL is not

Shared parental leave is not an independent, use-it-or-lose-it right for the father to have time off with his newborn child, and it is not paid at wage-replacement levels.

All the international evidence shows that this is what is needed, if we are serious about the social and family benefits which result from all parents at every income level being able to share care at home, and about the business benefits which follow when domestic equality and equality at work begin to reinforce each other. Such properly paid, independent rights for fathers are what Working Families will continue to campaign for.

And a little about what it is…

What SPL is, however, is an opportunity for a new generation of parents and for their employers. It goes with the grain of Generation Y’s family life, values and expectations, and offers employers a way into an early conversation with their working fathers. The beauty of it is that it enables the parents to take leave simultaneously. This makes such sense to younger men and women, even before they become parents, and is likely to mean that SPL will have greater take up than additional paternal leave (APL).

Take up of APL is shamefully low, although it has doubled in its second year. True, twice times not a lot is still not a lot. (Steve Bell’s penguins used to put that more earthily, Guardian readers may recall). But perhaps we are allowing ourselves to hope for too little.

I am struck by two things, both of which suggest that SPL could be the beginning of a quiet revolution for fathers, mothers and employers.

The first is that young fathers are not happy at work

Our annual survey of working parents shows that the employees who are least satisfied with their work-life balance, and who are most likely to blame their employer, are fathers aged 26-35.

Talk to young men and women in their teens and twenties and you will find an expectation of equality at home and at work. This is a generation which expects that men and women both have the right to be engaged and present parents. It is also a generation in which the man will not necessarily be the main earner – BIS suggests that in almost half of couples he or she earn the same or she earns more. Choices about who stays home with baby may be different, when mother’s is not the second wage.

SPL gives these parents the chance to start their family life together, simultaneously on leave.

The second is the experience of Citi

Citi have, for the past three years, won the Working Families Best for Fatherhood Award. Consistent engagement and communication with fathers has built a culture in which they can be confident and assertive. Citi report that they had seven APL-ers last year, up from three in 2012. Small straws in the wind perhaps, but Citi do not expect this trend to reverse, and why should it? Every organisation should do its best to communicate to male staff before they become expectant fathers – SPL is coming and it is their right and the organisation’s pleasure that they take it up.

Low income families

It is true that it will be difficult for parents on low incomes to take advantage of shared parental leave. Statutory pay is so low that it is a significant disincentive to taking time off just when family costs shoot up. But let’s not throw the culture change baby out with the bathwater of what SPL is not.

This is an opportunity

The choices made from next year by some young couples will contribute to gradually changing expectations on the part of a generation of new parents.

And meantime, employers can create the communications and build the culture in which men feel that they can and should share the care for their new child, and in which those Generation Y fathers are more likely to remain engaged and productive at work.

This article was first published on 3 June by My Family Care.

‘My children are my world, but without my career I can’t afford to pay for their world.’

In this guest post, Louisa Symington-Mills of Citymothers, the network for working mothers in City professions, explains what led her to last month’s launch of Cityfathers.

I created Citymothers in late 2012 following my own experience of returning to work in banking after the birth of my first child. I find it hard to pinpoint the source of the idea, which arrived in my head one dark November morning.

Certainly, when I returned to work after maternity leave, I felt isolated from the networking opportunities I had previously enjoyed, due to the simple practical problem of networking events in the City so often taking place after work. Pre-baby, I hadn’t thought twice about attending events in the evening, but now things felt very different. Even if the logistical challenges of finding a babysitter could be addressed, summoning the energy to support a late night generally couldn’t be.

At the same time, I was struck by the lack of support for working mothers in the City. Having returned to work after a four-month maternity leave with a flexible working arrangement (working three days a week in London and two days at home), the ease with which my arrangement was signed off by HR meant that I didn’t foresee the intense effort involved in actually making it work (and by making it work, I mean keeping my team happy), day by day.

As someone who had spent the previous six years navigating an upward trending career path with confidence, I was naively unprepared for the challenges of being a working mother. Surely it wasn’t just me? And so it became apparent that there was a need for both networking and relevant events, with a new organisation that could offer these opportunities at convenient times of day. So I started Citymothers, and it started to grow.

As time went on however, it became clear that we leaving someone out of the work/life balance equation – the Cityfather. Now, being a working mother is not easy – as a mother of two young children aged nine months and two years, and with a full time job in private equity, I can certainly testify to the challenges. But being a working father is possibly harder still.

Flexible working arrangements – for many, the key to a happier office and home life balance – can carry huge stigma, and all the more so for men.  I know fathers who say goodbye to their children on a Sunday night and greet them again on a Saturday morning, an unsurprising but sad side-effect of a City job with long hours and a commute.

Their working wives, by contrast, often afforded some flexibility by their employers, make an exhaustive (and exhausting) effort to be more present and involved in their children’s lives – working part-time, from home, or full time with a structured gap each evening to put the children to bed before resuming work remotely. And this perhaps is why women who work and have children are labelled ‘working mothers’, whilst the equivalent label is rarely applied to men.

I asked one Cityfather I know – one of a very few I’m aware of who has any kind of flexible working arrangement – if he would share his thoughts on why it is so rare for City men to work flexibly. “I’m so sorry, but work would take a really dim view of my situation being publicised”, was the response. And he’s not the only one to feel this way.

In the run up to the launch of Cityfathers last month, we carried out a survey of working fathers in the City and Canary Wharf. The survey revealed a City culture of stigma, where even a request for flexible working was thought to signal an end to a man’s career.  Of a total 750 respondents, just under half said their work/life balance was less than satisfactory.

Tellingly, less than 30 per cent said their experience of being a working father was positive, with the vast majority saying it was either ‘ok – a work in progress’ or ‘a struggle’. Just one year before all new fathers have the right to share parental leave with their partner, the survey found men in City professions divided as to whether they would consider taking up shared parental leave, despite nearly half saying that ‘missing their children’ is their biggest daily challenge.

There were lots of other interesting comments and observations, far too many to repeat here, but for me one comment from a working father stands out:

‘It’s a daily choice between career and family – I have to sacrifice one or the other. My children are my world, but without my career I can’t afford to pay for their world.’

By talking about why the City should embrace flexibility, offering encouragement and peer support to those who wish to be more involved in family life as well as progress a City career, and education and guidance to management, this culture can be changed for the benefit of everyone.

After all, it is not only children who stand to gain from having more involved fathers – the benefits of flexible working for employers have been proven in terms of employee productivity and talent retention. In providing a forum for working fathers to meet others with similar ambitions and priorities, and to hear from thought leaders both within and outside the City, we hope Cityfathers – along with Citymothers – will be a vital part of this process.

Working parents struggling to hold on to family-friendly jobs

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

In the week that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called for radical legal and cultural change to “make family-friendly working the new norm in Britain”, the latest annual report of our legal helpline shows too many working parents struggling to hold onto family-friendly employment, and unlawful practice by unscrupulous employers ever more difficult to challenge.

Katrina is a young single mother working in the care home sector.  Two years ago, when Katrina separated from her partner, her then manager agreed to Katrina reducing her hours and working a set shift pattern, as Katrina no longer had anyone to share the childcare with.  However, that manager has now left, and Katrina’s new manager has told her that she must from now on work full-time, and on variable shift patterns. Katrina wants to keep her job, but knows she has little hope of finding affordable childcare to cover the new shift patterns that would now be involved.

Katrina is just one of the 2,585 working parents and carers – 85 per cent of them women – who called or emailed the Working Families legal helpline in 2013.  The helpline team provide free advice on key work-life balance rights such as maternity and paternity leave and pay, time off in an emergency, and unpaid parental leave.  They provide help with requesting and negotiating flexible working (or with contesting imposed changes to an existing flexible working arrangement), and with challenging pregnancy, maternity or other discrimination in the workplace.  And they offer advice on relevant social security benefits and tax credits.

With changes to the social security system – including the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and a freeze on Child Benefit – continuing to hit low-income families hard, and childcare and other essential living costs rising faster than wages, many of those who  contacted the helpline in 2013 were trying to work out how they can make work pay. And others were trying to adopt a new, family-friendly working pattern following maternity leave, or in response to a major change of family circumstances, such as relationship breakdown or the onset of disability of their child.

But in 2013 the helpline’s team of advisers dealt with an increased number of cases in which the caller’s employer had imposed, or was seeking to impose, a significant change in hours or work pattern, without adequate consultation and with little if any consideration for the resultant difficulty in meeting family responsibilities.

Launching the report  earlier today, Working Families Chief Executive, Sarah Jackson said:

A growing number of callers to the helpline are reporting the family-friendly working pattern they have had in place for years being changed or withdrawn virtually overnight, with no opportunity for them to express their views and negotiate either retention of the existing pattern or, failing that, a mutually agreeable compromise.

Among the case studies highlighted in the report:

Kathryn, a mother of three young children, called the Helpline after being told by her employer – a small retailer – she had to increase her hours and work Saturdays, with immediate effect.  Kathryn had been employed by the company for 19 years, during which time she had only ever worked on weekdays.  Kathryn’s partner already worked Saturdays, and the couple could not afford extra childcare for the Saturday.

Robin, a father of two young children, one of them disabled, had been employed as a lab technician for ten years.  For the past three years, Robin had worked from 6.30 am to 2.30 pm each weekday, so as to cover the afternoon school run.  Now his employer had told Robin that he must change his hours to 8.30 am to 5.15 pm, which would make it impossible for Robin to be available for either school run.

Harini, a children’s centre worker, was told that on her return from maternity leave she would have to change her long-established flexible working pattern so as to do more work from the office and less from home, despite her role having become more strategy-based. With the helpline team’s assistance, Harini submitted a formal grievance, and the employer then backed down, allowing Harini to return to work on her previous working pattern.

It is especially pleasing when, as in Harini’s case, our helpline team is able to support many callers through negotiating an agreeable solution, enabling them to stay with their employer.  But the team deal with far too many cases in which the employer is unreasonably intransigent, and the introduction of upfront employment tribunal fees last year appears to have put formal legal action out of the reach of many.

The most recent official figures show a dramatic fall in the number of employment tribunal claims by individual claimants, from an average of 4,530 per month before the introduction of fees in July 2013, to just 1,000 in September, 1,620 in October, 1,840 in November, and 1,500 in December.

This matters, because if vulnerable workers cannot access the tribunal system, then unlawful practice by less scrupulous employers – whether inadvertent or deliberately exploitative – will go unchecked, and more employers will be tempted to similarly disregard the rights of their workers when seeking to make organisational changes.

As employment barrister Natasha Joffe noted recently in a great blog post on Mumsnet, “since July 2013, thousands of people who would otherwise have done so have not complained about breaches of their employment rights. Worse than that, the fact that very few people can now bring claims at all means that the pressure on employers to comply with employment laws is vastly diminished”.

That is clearly unfair to the workers concerned, as well as to the great majority of employers who readily abide by the law and do their best for their workforce. But it also makes the work of our helpline team that much more difficult, and that much more important.

The report concludes that, to protect gender equality, tackle the widespread discrimination around pregnancy and maternity leave, and support the extension (from June) of the right to request flexible working and the new right (from April 2015) to shared parental leave, fees for claimants should – at the very least – be reduced to a nominal level.

The report also recommends that all new fathers should be eligible to at least two weeks of paid paternity leave at the time of or soon after the birth, without having to meet inordinately long service and notice requirements (currently, fathers have to have had 26 weeks service by the 15th week before the expected date of childbirth). And it calls on the Government, trade unions and employer bodies to jointly explore what more can be done to ensure that employers act legally and follow best practice when seeking to make changes to pay, hours or working patterns.

 

Making Britain less Edwardian? Or just more Elizabethan?

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

Flexible working and family-friendly policies were on the agenda this morning, when the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, delivered a keynote speech at the launch of Cityfathers, a welcome new “network for City professionals who have a shared interest in balancing family life with a progressive career”.

The speech was strong on rhetoric and aspirations, with the Deputy Prime Minister asserting that “we need to tackle once and for all the hidden prejudices which still limit the choices of many men and women” with a “once-in-a-generation chain reaction across our offices, factories and other workplaces”.  Hear hear to that.

But it was less strong on history, with a headline-grabbing but somewhat baffling assertion that “we have to sweep away those Edwardian rules which still hold back those families working hard to juggle their responsibilities at home and at work. For decades, our parental leave system has been based on the assumption that it’s dad who goes out to work while mum cares for the kids – giving fathers two weeks off when your baby is first born and mothers up to a year”.

Edwardian rules? The statutory right of new fathers to two weeks’ paid paternity leave dates from 2003, and it was only in 2007 that paid maternity leave was extended from six to nine months (the plan to further extend it to a year later being abandoned).  And, as one expert noted recently, the reality is that during the Edwardian era – the decade after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 – a great many working class families counted on two wages, not one. Mr Clegg’s ‘dad at work while mum cares for the kids’ model is more a mid-20th century thing, for the masses at least.

Rather more seriously, the speech was somewhat longer on exhortation to employers than it was on governmental policies to “drag those clapped out rules into the 21st Century”. Avoiding any reference to the shockingly low rate at which statutory paternity leave is paid – less than 60 per cent of the national minimum wage – Mr Clegg suggested that the new right to shared parental leave, due to come into force in April 2015, will play a key role in making family-friendly working “the new norm in Britain”.

However, as the Fatherhood Institute was quick to point out, this legal change is most unlikely to significantly increase fathers’ uptake of parental leave above current levels – not least because “by the government’s own estimate, fathers in only one in three working families will be eligible for it”.  And cultural change will be glacially slow in coming so long as take up of paternity leave remains so pitifully low.

As we note in our draft ‘families & work’ manifesto for 2015, it is vital that we get fathers more involved in caring for their children, so as to ensure gender equality in the home as well as at work,  and reduce overall childcare costs for families.  And to do this, we suggest that the government elected in 2015 needs to work towards longer, more flexible and better paid periods of dedicated leave for fathers. At the very least, statutory paternity (and maternity) pay needs to be steadily raised to at least parity with the national minimum wage, and entitlement to statutory paid paternity leave needs to be increased from two to six weeks, with further increases to follow in the longer term.

In short, what we need is not so much a sweeping away of Edwardian rules, but more – or simply better – Elizabethan rules. Elizabeth the Second, that is.

Postscript:  If I’ve been unduly harsh to Mr Clegg, I definitely have to hand it to Miriam Gonzalez Durantez – aka Mrs Clegg – who left little room for doubt when she ‘hijacked’ her husband’s Q&A following his Cityfathers speech to declare that men who take time out from work to look after their children have “more cojones”.  Amen to that.