Paternity Rights – Worthy or Not

21st January, 2011. This week, Nick Clegg set forth the new flexi-time arrangements for leave from work for parents after the birth of a new baby. The plan he said “will move Britain away from an “Edwardian” system that causes suffering to women, men and children.” He made the announcement at the launch of a report by think-tank Demos, which has warned that overwork, stress and inflexible hours are undermining parents’ confidence in their ability to bring up children.

Under plans drawn up during the last Labour Government, fathers will be able to take up remaining unpaid maternity leave if mothers decide to go back to work early, for a maximum of six months. Mr Clegg made several interesting comments stating that: “The current rules ‘patronise women and marginalise men’ and they’re based on a view of life in which mothers stay at home and fathers are the only breadwinners. That’s an Edwardian system that has no place in 21st century Britain. Women suffer. Mothers are expected to take on the vast bulk of childcare themselves. If they don’t, they very often feel judged. If they do, they worry about being penalised at work.”

This is certainly an interesting observation especially in the light of the article “So are employers reluctant to hire women”

The new paternity rules may seem complex and will certainly impact businesses and it has been stated by the British Chamber of Commerce that short term chunks will be tough for employers and that it may harm job creation. Observation from the legal sector has gone further to say that Nick Clegg’s proposals might see employers avoiding recruitment of any person in their 20s or 30s, which would lead to an increase in the number of age discrimination claims and the burden of tribunal claims on employers. An issue, women of a certain age perhaps already do face at the current time.

There is no doubt that there will be an impact on commerce but other countries, such as Iceland have tested this method and it certainly has seemed to work to a degree. Without doubt, the same doomsayers who talk about impact that will be had upon commerce will also be the same people who talk about broken society and a lack of parental input into the upbringing of future generations. What is clear is that the current two week paternity leave is highly useless and probably in practice does not benefit the family model. The extended leave, whatever way it is structured, may not be the most efficient way forward but as Nick Clegg also stated “Children suffer, too often missing out on time with their fathers – time that is desperately important to their development. We know that where fathers are involved in their children’s lives they develop better friendships, they learn to empathise, they have higher self-esteem, and they achieve better at school. And men suffer too. More and more fathers want to play a hands-on role with their young children. But too many feel that they can’t. It’s madness that we are denying them that chance. That culture must change,” and this is certainly true.

The new proposal may still be wrought with issues but surely it is a move in the right direction? If we are to consider the development of the future generations, then there has to be a shift in the present methodology of parental rights and one can only hope that this may also have a positive effect of getting women back into the workforce post child.