So I haven’t been fired from my job yet, which means they’ve let me continue working there for the past six weeks. Trust me, I’m just as surprised as you are. As I’ve been there a while now, I’ve done my fair share of opening post. I don’t mind doing the post, which is lucky because I have to do it twice a day. I have to sort it all in to piles which is incredibly exciting when post openers exist. Anyway, one of my piles is for maternity leave forms, and I’ve had a lot of these come in since I started. A few weeks ago, I opened an envelope and something different fell out – a paternity leave form. I didn’t think much of it at first. Then, I suddenly realised this was the first one I’d had in my four weeks working there. Comparatively, I’d waded through about 92 maternity leave ones. I read the paternity form and found the father was only entitled to a maximum of two weeks paid leave. Although I knew what was coming, I decided to compare the form to a maternity one anyway. Sure enough, the mothers requesting leave were allowed 52 weeks off.
I know this isn’t some huge ‘discovery’ I’ve made. Most people (I think), know that (in general around the world) mothers are allowed more leave than fathers when it comes to caring for a new baby. It’s always been something I’ve disagreed with, but never something I’d thought about in much detail. Having said this, witnessing it for myself hit me in a different way.
So now I want to think about it properly. First of all, we can look at the standard maternity and paternity leave in the UK, which apparently the majority of couples are currently choosing to take. Paternity leave offers the father or partner either 1 or 2 weeks of leave. In comparison, maternity leave offers mothers 52 weeks of leave. Clearly we can see a discrepancy here. However, to be fair to the UK, in 2011 additional paternity leave was introduced as an alternative option for fathers and partners. This was a good step in the right direction but like many things, it came with its limitations. Figures from 2013 and 2014 show the uptake of APL was very low. Reasons for this ranged from financial issues to stigma attached to men staying at home. In 2015, Shared Paternal Leave and Pay was introduced, replacing the old additional paternity leave option. Again, this was a step forward for the UK. The scheme allowed parents to split 52 weeks of leave between them, getting some payment for 39 of these weeks. This leave can be used on top of the statutory two weeks of paternity leave already available to fathers and partners. However, similarly to additional paternity leave, uptake so far has been extremely low. Again, there are many different reasons for this. Many couples are hesitant to take it as they find it doesn’t make much financial sense for them to do so. Some parents also fail to meet the qualifying conditions to take Shared Paternal Leave.
Not everywhere has the same system as the UK though (obviously). For example, Iceland operates around the right of a child to be cared for by both parents. This means three months of leave are allocated to each parent, with an extra three months to be shared between them. Interestingly, Sweden uses “daddy quotas” to encourage fathers to take time off, a method that has proved effective. I’m no expert on these foreign countries’ policies, but from what I have learnt, they seem to be moving in the right direction if you ask me!
So why do I want things to change in the UK? Well, fathers may simply want to spend more time with their children without being shamed or restricted financially. In my opinion, parents should be able to decide for themselves how they split their work and home life without money constraints or stigma. By all means, if a mother is eager to take time off whilst a father wants to works, then obviously that’s fine too. However, it’s about giving each family a proper choice – a choice that isn’t so influenced by financial restrictions, heavy stigma, and so on.
Assuming mothers will always be the primary child carers can also prevent women from reaching higher positions at work. Employers may be reluctant to promote pregnant women when they simply presume they’ll be the main child carers. Whilst pregnancy does affect mothers more than fathers, child caring does not have to and couples shouldn’t feel pressured to split their work and family responsibilities in a particular way.
Since finding that first paternity form, I’ve only had one other form for a father come through in the post – just ONE! I really want things to change. I want all restrictions lifted, more financially realistic paternity policies introduced, and the pressure some women feel to become main child carers (when they don’t want to be) reduced. Equally importantly, I want the stigma of fathers looking after babies and children to go away!
Basically, I think parents should be able to organise their lives the way they want (within reason, obviously). I hope at least some of you agree with me. Anyway, that’s my opinion on the current maternity/paternity leave situation in the UK. Feel free to give your opinions on it in the comments, even though opinions scare me a bit if I’m honest (which is really convenient considering the kinds of topics I discuss on this blog hahaha…)
Anywho, if you’ve gotten this far then thanks so much for reading this long-winded post. Hope you have a Merry Christmas! 🙂
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