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Will the Prime Minister try to push through a change in paternity leave before she leaves office?
Another day, another parental leave issue surfaces. Theresa May is rumoured to be looking to leave a lasting legacy as she bows out, including an extension of paternity leave to 12 weeks. This follows up on recommendations from a report by the Woman and Equalities Committee.
Only there is apparently a tussle going on about how this would be paid. Theresa May is said to favour the first four weeks being paid at 90% of salary followed by eight weeks at the statutory rate. Men currently get two weeks at the statutory rate of around £150 a week. The aim is to bring paternity leave closer in line with maternity leave. Women currently get six weeks at 90% pay followed by the statutory rate for 33 weeks.The Business Secretary is said to have argued that this extension would be too costly, particularly for smaller businesses, and there is a suggestion of excluding any dads who earn over £100,000 a year.
This has caused concern from some quarters that it is senior managers, likely to be earning such sums, who need to lead by example by taking longer paternity leave.
Of course, it is up to campaigners to make the case for paternity leave being extended and funded at the same level as maternity leave. The Government’s job is to decide on spending priorities.
There is another possible option, however, which is, rather than exclude some men on the grounds that they earn more, to cap statutory paternity – and maternity – pay as happens in several other European countries. That would mean that the 90% pay would be capped at, say, £100K.
The UK has quite a long period of paid maternity leave compared to other countries. However, the majority of it is is paid at a very low level, which often leads to women being forced back to work earlier than they would like. Meanwhile, many women who are on higher pay work for corporate companies, some of which offer enhanced maternity [and often paternity] pay.
Of course it would be great if everyone could get full pay for the entire time they are off, but is that issue more important than, for instance, bringing down the cost of childcare or ensuring parents can feed their children?
In any event, the likelihood of any of the current talk of extending paternity leave seeing the light of day, given that economic future of the UK looks ever so slightly precarious, seems to be fairly remote. Theresa May’s legacy is unlikely to revolve around parental leave.