Tag Archives: Shared Parental Leave

#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.

 

 

An afternoon in Westminster: the Working Families policy conference

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

Last Tuesday, some 120 policy wonks, campaigners and academics  gathered in Portcullis House, Westminster for the second Working Families annual policy conference, kindly hosted by former cabinet minister Maria Miller MP. With the presentation of two new Working Families reports, keynote speeches by MPs from each of the three main parties, and panel discussions on ‘The 21st Century Working Family’ and ‘Tackling In-Work Poverty’, there was a crowded agenda. And it being exactly 100 days to go to the General Election on 7 May seemed to add a certain spice to the debate.

Not surprisingly, there was much talk of manifestos, and some very welcome indication from the three MPs – Maria Miller for the Conservatives, shadow childcare minister Alison McGovern for Labour, and BIS minister Jo Swinson for the Liberal Democrats – of cross-party support for key policy asks in the Families & Work Manifesto for May 2015, developed by Working Families, Family & Childcare Trust, Fatherhood Institute, Fawcett Society, Gingerbread, Grandparents Plus, Maternity Action, NCT, Parents Across Scotland, Single Parents Action Network, TUC, Women’s Budget Group and others.

Noting the “record numbers of women in work” and that “the sandwich-generation faces the dual challenge of childcare and eldercare”, Maria Miller said “we have to ensure that a model of work designed by men for men is not just given a lick of paint. We have to make flexible working the norm.” Mrs Miller suggested that the Families & Work Manifesto call for adoption of a ‘flexible by default’ approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector is “something that should be taken up by all three main parties.”

On childcare, Mrs Miller noted that, while overall supply has greatly increased over the past two decades, “affordability and flexibility are the challenges we’ve yet to meet.” And, as demonstrated in the new Working Families report Off Balance, launched at the conference, this is especially true for the working parents of disabled children and young people, for whom childcare is not just an ‘under fives’ issue.

Picking up on one of the key findings from the new Modern Families Index, also launched at the conference, that “there is an appetite among working parents” for the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) that comes fully into force in April, employment relations and equalities minister Jo Swinson noted that “the cost of childcare can be a major barrier to new mothers returning to work after maternity leave” but “childcare is not just an issue for women.” Ms Swinson believes the availability of SPL will “prompt a conversation” between parents on how to share their new caring responsibilities.

Endorsing Maria Miller’s call for private sector employers to adopt the Happy to Talk Flexible Working strap line developed by Working Families,  Ms Swinson argued that male business leaders should “use their visibility to set a good example” on flexible working and shared parenting. The Families & Work Manifesto calls for ministers to act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and encourage use of the strapline.

Following a theme that was later to be raised again and again in the two panel discussions, Alison McGovern argued that policy-formulation on childcare and flexible working must recognise, and reflect, the reality of life for millions of low-paid working parents. For all to many low-paid working mothers in particular, flexible working now means only a zero-hours contract, with no security of job or income. And, with wild fluctuations in weekly income, finding and holding on to affordable childcare becomes a near impossibility. All too often, “families have no choice at all.”

Ms McGovern also flagged up a need to focus on the necessarily long-term goal of a seamless framework of parental leave rights and State-funded childcare. As Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus was later to highlight, some 50 per cent of working families rely on grandparents to fill the current ‘childcare gap’ between the end of statutory maternity leave (at 12 months) and the start of free entitlement to childcare (at three years).

In the two panel debates that followed an all-too-brief break for coffee, the delegates and panel members – Alison Garnham of CPAG, Fiona Weir of Gingerbread, Sam Royston of The Children’s Society, Ellen Broome of Family & Childcare Trust, William McDonald of the Fatherhood Institute, and Sam Smethers of Grandparents Plus – confirmed by their contributions that, despite welcome progress in the law, public policy, and practice of many employers on flexible working and shared parenting, there remains, in Maria Miller’s words, “far more to do”. Falling real wages, growing casualisation of the labour market, spiralling childcare costs, and swingeing cuts to maternity benefits in recent years have made being a working parent more challenging than ever for all too many.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn what ideas politicians such as Alison McGovern, Maria Miller and Jo Swinson and their parties have for the next government to make work work that little bit better for parents, carers and their families.

You can now follow this blog on the new Working Families website blog pages

Civil Service sets benchmark for Shared Parental Leave

By Richard Dunstan, Workflex blog editor

With opinion on the likely impact of the new right to shared parental leave (SPL) sharply divided between those who anticipate a game-changer (of whom Working Families are at the forefront) and those who expect yet another damp squib, last week Nick Clegg gave the optimists reason to be cheerful with a heavily-trailed speech in which he ‘announced’ that all civil service employees will be offered equal enhanced SPL pay.

Speaking to an audience of public sector workers – including teachers, social workers, local government and NHS staff – the Deputy Prime Minister stated that, from April 2015:

The civil service will be offering equal parental pay and support to all its employees – male and female. As a result, it will no longer just be new mums working in the civil service who can take maternity leave at full pay. Dads will also be able to benefit from enhanced pay for shared parental leave, if both parents choose to carve up their time between them. This means more fathers will be able to afford to take time off to spend caring for their new born children.

In fact, Clegg was recycling old news, the move having first been announced in early September by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, when launching the Talent Action Plan, a central plank of the Government’s ongoing civil service reform programme. Maude stated then:

The civil service’s adoption of the new entitlement to shared parental leave will go far beyond statutory requirements. For the first time, civil servants across government, at all levels, will have the option to split the six months’ full pay usually offered to women for maternity leave. The move [will give] parents flexibility around how they share childcare responsibilities and ensure both parents can retain strong links with the labour market.

Old news or new news, the move is definitely good news. It sets a benchmark for the support of new parents that many private sector employers – both large and small – will need to follow if SPL is to usher in a new era of more equally shared parenting.

The omens are not great. One recent survey of human resources professionals indicated that only 48% of employers offer enhanced maternity pay for up to six months, and that a mere 8% offer enhanced pay to fathers using the existing right to additional paternity leave (APL). And, of course, by excluding the great majority of SMEs and micro-employers without any in-house human resources specialist, such surveys tend to paint a somewhat rose-tinted picture of the wider labour market reality. Research commissioned by the DWP and BIS, published in 2011, indicates that only one in three of all women taking maternity leave from work receive any enhanced maternity pay from their employer.

Then again, another recent survey by Personnel Today and ExpertHR indicated that “most employers that offer enhanced maternity pay will also offer enhanced shared parental leave pay”.  The survey found that 56% of those currently offering enhanced maternity pay would also offer enhanced SPL pay to fathers. Reacting to that survey, Working Families chief executive Sarah Jackson noted that “shared parental leave will only be a success if fathers are not significantly financially worse off when taking it, and when their employers are wholly supportive of them doing so.”

Ed Bowyer, employment partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, added: “Businesses may be waiting to get a sense of what their competitors are likely to do, but they will need to decide their own policy sooner rather than later.” However, it was “encouraging” that most employers who enhance maternity pay and have already decided their policy are also intending to enhance shared parental leave pay: “This is likely to mean that take-up of SPL will be greater than has been the case for additional paternity leave, where paid leave has very much been the exception rather than the rule.”

It certainly won’t be difficult for take-up of SPL to be greater than that of APL, which has been negligible. As the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) noted in its November 2012 impact assessment of the then proposed system of SPL:

The current system of maternity, paternity and parental leave cannot be described as flexible and does little to encourage shared parenting in the first year of a child’s life. It also perpetuates a gender imbalance in terms of attachment to, and position in, the labour market; reinforcing the culture that women do the majority of caring and are more likely to be absent from the labour force as a result of having children. In so doing, the current system contributes to unequal labour market outcomes for men and women in the longer term.

So, we all have to hope that the Civil Service’s welcome approach on SPL gives the new system a much-needed boost off the launch pad. Time will tell, but in the meantime much credit is due to Nick Clegg, Nicky Morgan, Jo Swinson and others within government who have driven the move towards equality for Civil Service parents, and so provided a benchmark for employers to emulate or – heaven’s above – improve upon.

 

 

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.

Shared parental leave: brave new world, or ‘damp squib’?

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

In recent weeks, there’s been a sudden spate of news articles about the new system of shared parental leave, even though it’s not due to come into force until April 2015. This could just be coincidence, or it could be that several writers noticed that the first babies whose parents will use the new system – those born prematurely, and who will therefore be covered by provisions of the new legal regime that will come into force in October this year – are being conceived right now. Well, maybe not right now, as it’s early afternoon as I write this, but you know what I mean.

At the same time, several government ministers involved in steering the Children & Families Act 2014 through Parliament have used keynote speeches to promote the new regime. Last month, the BIS employment relations minister, Jenny Willott, jokingly apologised to her audience for “banging on” about shared parental leave:

“But I’m really proud of the fact that we’re bringing it in and I think it’s really important. It will send a very important message about a father’s role in caring for their children and a woman’s value both in the workplace and in the family. And in the long term it will enable women to have more choice over their career progression and allow parents more choice on how to arrange childcare and give father’s a real chance to take more responsibility for their children when young.”

A couple of weeks later, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, asserted that the 2014 Act will drag our “clapped out rules [on parental leave] into the 21st Century”. And last week , during a speech on labour market flexibility, Business Secretary Vince Cable expressed 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.”

Outside government, however, such confidence is not so universal. Earlier this month, new research by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) suggested that  almost a third of fathers would not even consider using shared parental leave. Of those, 45 per cent said this was because of the shockingly low rate at which statutory leave will be paid – some £140 per week, or just 60 per cent of the national minimum wage. 

Almost 90 per cent of human resources professionals and employment lawyers surveyed by law firm Norton Rose in March believe there will be low take-up of shared parental leave by fathers, and the Institute of Public Policy Research has expressed severe doubt about the prospects of greater take-up of leave by fathers. Most pessimistically of all, this week the Fatherhood Institute’s Adrienne Burgess predicted that shared parental leave will be a “damp squib” and will have “no impact on uptake by fathers and therefore no impact on women in the workplace”.

So who is right? Well, it certainly won’t be hard for take-up of shared parental leave by fathers to be an improvement on take up of additional paternity leave since its introduction in April 2011: official figures indicate that a mere 3,900 fathers received statutory additional paternity pay in 2012/13 (though that represents a 100 per cent increase on the previous year, so things were going in the right direction). And many of the employer members of Working Families tell us that shared parental leave “makes a lot of sense for younger fathers” and that they expect to see increasing take-up among their staff.

Time will tell. As will the monitoring of take-up of shared parental leave that we are told will be conducted by BIS, which should result in greater clarity than has been the case with additional paternity leave.

Watch this space!

‘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.

One year to go: a ‘families and work’ manifesto for May 2015

By Richard Dunstan, Policy & Parliamentary Campaigns Officer

Previously on this blog, we set out a draft ‘families & work’ manifesto for the General Election in May 2015, with 14 specific policy proposals grouped under four headings: time; equality; money; and childcare infrastructure.  Using feedback on that draft from a wide range of partners, we have now honed the manifesto down to eight key policy proposals.

These eight proposals have been selected as being emblematic of what we believe should be the broader thrust of policy in these four areas. And each offers an opportunity for the political parties to demonstrate a practical commitment to our vision of work that actually works for all families and all employers – whatever their size and shape.

There is now less than a year to go until the General Election in May 2015, and over the coming weeks we will be using this manifesto to engage policy makers in dialogue on these issues, and will be further refining the manifesto in the light of feedback. So please do tell us your views, either by posting a comment below, or by emailing me at: richard.dunstan@workingfamilies.org.uk

Time

Despite great progress in both the law and employer best practice, negative assumptions about flexible and family-friendly working persist. Reduced-hours working is still heavily gendered and all too often seen as a lack of commitment, with senior roles and flexible working wrongly held to be incompatible. There are key gaps in the legal framework for time off work in order to fulfil family responsibilities, especially at times of crisis. And there are simply too few good quality part-time or otherwise flexible jobs, putting single parents and parents of disabled children at particular disadvantage.

With an ageing population, we need to recognise and support the growing role of grandparents in family care, including by granting grandparents a leave entitlement similar to the existing right to unpaid parental leave. The law on employment status needs to be updated to ensure that workers on zero-hours contracts, agency workers and others all enjoy access to ‘family-friendly’ rights. And we need to greatly increase the supply of good quality, flexible jobs.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Establish a new  right to a period of adjustment leave, to enable families to weather relatively short-term life crises such as the death, serious illness, or onset of disability of a partner, parent or child, or other major change in their caring responsibilities, without having to give up work.
  2. Adopt a flexible by default approach to job design and recruitment in the public sector, so that all jobs in central and local government are advertised on a flexible basis unless there is a specific, good business reason not to. Ministers should act and recruit business leaders as ‘flexible working’ champions, and should encourage private sector employers to adopt Working Families’ Happy to Talk Flexible Working strapline.

Equality at work and at home

Take-up of additional paternity leave beyond a short period at or shortly after the time of birth has been pitifully low.[i] And, whilst the rate at which it is paid remains so low, take-up by fathers of the new shared parental leave is also likely to be low. Yet it is vital 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 childcare costs for families.

The evidence from other countries is that fathers take full advantage of paternity leave only when it is well paid, and is a stand-alone right. So we need to work towards longer, more flexible and better paid periods of dedicated leave for fathers.

To be meaningful, rights on paper need to be enforceable. To drive gender equality in the workplace and tackle the increasingly widespread discrimination around pregnancy and maternity leave, the hefty employment tribunal fees for claimants introduced in July 2013 must, at the very least, be reduced to a nominal level.[ii] And we need a clear statutory right to time-off and facilities for breastfeeding mothers upon return to work.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Increase the current statutory entitlement to paid paternity leave, from two weeks to six weeks, with four of the six weeks available to be taken at any point during the child’s first year. This should be a Day One right and, like the first six weeks of statutory maternity leave, this leave should be paid at 90 per cent of earnings.
  2. Reform the new right to shared parental leave – due to come into force in April 2015 – so as to simplify the legal framework, open eligibility to all fathers from Day One of their employment, and enable statutory paid leave to be taken on a part-time basis.

Money

To achieve a good work-life balance, working parents need a flexible job that pays well enough to support a family. Yet Britain is suffering an increasingly entrenched crisis of low pay, which steals time from families and consumes vast subsidies by the State.

This challenge requires robust action. We need to see more employers adopting the Living Wage, and the government should take an active role in making this happen. The national minimum wage needs to be both increased and better enforced, which means more human and other resources for enforcement.  The design of Universal Credit needs to be further improved, to ensure work really does pay. And we need to start raising the astonishingly low level of statutory maternity and paternity pay – currently paid at just 60 per cent of the national minimum wage.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Restore the real value of statutory maternity and paternity pay, lost as a result of the one per cent cap on annual uprating since April 2013, and set out a programme of annual, real terms increases so as to raise such pay to at least the level of the national minimum wage within ten years.
  2. Enhance the potential of Universal Credit to ensure that work really does pay for all working families, by (a) introducing a work allowance for second earners, and (b) strengthening safeguards to prevent parents being pushed into family-unfriendly jobs by the threat of sanctions.

Childcare infrastructure

Despite a series of welcome political initiatives and considerable public investment, our childcare system is still not fit for purpose, with demand outstripping the supply of affordable childcare. All too often, parental choice about whether or how many hours to work is constrained or even dictated by the local availability of affordable childcare. And the childcare crunch is particularly acute for single parents, those working atypical hours, parents of disabled children, and those living in rural areas.

We need to work towards a system that delivers good quality, affordable childcare to all working parents when they need it, whilst at the same time protecting and enhancing the well-being of our children. However, the challenge must be met not by children spending excessive time in costly childcare, but by more flexible working for parents and a better, more flexible supply of good quality, affordable childcare.

That amounts to a very significant challenge, which we believe will only be met when the issue of childcare is treated as one of economic and social infrastructure on a par with education and transport.

The government elected in 2015 should:

  1. Appoint a cabinet-level, cross-departmental minister for childcare. In recognition of the fact that good childcare infrastructure boosts economic activity as well as child development, this minister should be based in both the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills. He or she should lead on developing a new national strategy on childcare, aimed at delivering universal access to good quality, affordable childcare within ten years.
  2. Appoint a minister with specific responsibility for urgently driving up the supply of good quality, affordable and appropriate childcare for disabled children. At present, only one in four local authorities report sufficiency of childcare for disabled children in their area.

Endnotes

[i] Official figures released by HM Revenue & Customs in April 2014 show that the employers of fewer than 3,900 fathers were reimbursed for statutory additional paternity leave in 2012/13. Hansard, House Commons, 3 April 2014, col. 746W.

[ii] The most recent figures made available by the Ministry of Justice show a dramatic fall in the number of employment tribunal claims by individual claimants, from an average of 4,530 per month prior to the introduction of claimant fees of up to £1,200 on 29 July 2013, to just 1,000 in September, 1,620 in October, 1,840 in November, and 1,500 in December.

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.