Giving New Dads Time Off

Calling the current system “Edwardian,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wants to overhaul Britain’s rules governing maternity and paternity leave.  Specifically, he wants to increase the amount of time men take off from work after their child is born.  Currently, women are allowed up to a year of maternity leave; under the new rules, if they return to work before that time is up, the father would be able to use the remainder of the unpaid leave.

Clegg said that the current rules, which give men a mere two weeks’ leave, “patronise women and marginalise men.”  Clegg, who took an extended leave after his first child was born so his lawyer wife could return to work, wants to totally revamp how leave is shared.  “We want to go further,” he says.  “We know that men need to be actively encouraged to take time off.  And often parents want more flexibility than these arrangements will allow.  So in the coming weeks we will be launching a consultation on a new properly flexible system of shared parental leave.”

In addition, Clegg wants to include grandparents in the mix, a necessity, he says, “if we are to dispel the stigma many men, and some employers, still attach to it.”  He explains that “by extending flexible leave, for example to grandparents, or close family friends, we hope to make it much more common – a cultural norm.”

While businesses may not be entirely happy about the pending changes, the unions are.  Says Trades Union Congress (a federation of trade unions in the UK) general secretary Brendan Barber, “new parents should be able to decide for themselves who looks after their baby in the first year, rather than having the decision dictated by government regulation, as is currently the case.”

If men in the UK get two weeks of paternity leave now, they’re already doing better than I did, what with my one week off followed by a week of working at home.  Nonetheless, the idea of sharing a year off is very appetizing.  I’d love to see parents given that opportunity here in the US.  The only concern I have is that if this is unpaid leave, how many families can really afford to go without the salary of one parent for a full year?  Personally, I’d love to see the government offer a year of subsidized leave for new parents; I think it would end up cheaper in the long run in reduced costs — fewer prison inmates, lower medical expenses, and so on. Besides, what’s more important than our kids?

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