Third time lucky

By Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser, Scotland.

Provided everything goes as planned, you are reading this blog while I am on paternity leave. This is my third time and, despite my children being born within just over five years, it will be a different experience yet again. My son was born 10 days before the 2015 General Election – anyone who has ever worked on a political campaign will know what that meant for my paternity leave. My daughter was born two years ago, during parliamentary recess and I got to enjoy my statutory 2 weeks off in full. This time, however, things are different again. But more on that later.

Out of sheer curiosity, our impending arrival prompted me to look at how other countries provide for new parents in legislation. Statutory maternity, paternity and parental leave policies differ quite significantly across the world – in the number of weeks parents are entitled to take off as well as in the salary contributions covered. On top of this, of course, employers can offer vastly differing policies as part of their employee benefits package.

The US remains an outlier across OECD countries, with no national parental leave policies (although a few states have put in place their own schemes). With the OECD average standing at 18.1 weeks, and the EU average at 22.1 weeks, the UK compares well on the length of paid maternity leave available, with 39 weeks’ entitlement. The dedicated 2 weeks of paid paternity leave also compares well with the 1.4 OECD and 1.7 EU averages.

Where things get a lot more complicated is when we start looking at associated parental leave policies (this is the usually supplemental entitlement beyond immediate maternity or paternity leave), which differ even more internationally – some are shared, some reserved for one or both parents, with some payments individual and others family-based, in addition to differences in flexibility or timing of the entitlement. 

Looking at the OECD assessment of all these policies combined, the UK doesn’t do well at all. Total paid leave available to mothers in the UK (39 weeks) compares poorly to the OECD average of 53.9 weeks and the EU average of 65.8 weeks. Things aren’t any better for fathers, with the UK’s 2 weeks of paid parental leave for fathers compared to the OECD average of 8.1 weeks and the EU average of 6.3 weeks.

The introduction of shared parental leave in the UK was hailed as a significant step forward in equalising gender disparities in care. The take up – three years after the scheme’s introduction – was estimated to be as low as 2% of eligible fathers. While there are some signs of attitudes changing, this is a staggering gap, which can only partially be explained by the scheme’s complexity. Reforms have been proposed, but so far, suggestions for a type of statutory non-transferable leave for fathers (commonplace across Scandinavian countries) have not been taken up.

The gap in the take up of shared parental leave is another bit of a mountain of evidence that shows the gendered nature of care in the UK. Women are still significantly more likely to be the primary carers for children or elderly relatives, with associated impacts in the labour market.

Our own research in Scotland points to this too. For example, Working Lives Scotland – our first report on job quality in Scotland – highlights differences in the usage of flexible work options. The figure below shows that while all flexible work arrangements are used equally by men and women, the usage of reduced hours is heavily skewed towards women (16% of women have used this arrangement vs only 5% of men) – reflecting the choices women make to look after children or elderly relatives.

The pandemic has only exacerbated this. The ONS estimates that women provided two thirds more childcare than men during lockdown. Research also shows that women were more likely to lose jobs, to be furloughed and to experience deteriorating wellbeing. With uncertainty over the full-time return of schools as well as further reopening of workplaces, it is likely that female employees will be impacted disproportionately over the coming months.

Putting in place systems that enable fathers to be more involved in the early weeks, months and years of their children’s lives - equalising care responsibilities - would have knock on effects on women in the labour market too. Maternity discrimination or the gender pay gap are all linked to the skewed nature of care.

Luckily, where governments leave gaps, some employers step up. In the last year companies like O2, Standard Life Aberdeen or Diageo announced enhanced paternity leave policies, offering fathers fully paid leave for significantly longer than entitled by law. Some of these companies have simply decided to equalise their maternity and paternity policies, showing real tangible commitment to gender equality.

And this is where I come to my third paternity leave experience. A few weeks ago, quietly without any PR, the CIPD joined the list of employers offering an enhanced paternity leave policy. Eligible new mothers and new fathers are now entitled to 13 weeks of leave on full pay. Even those like me, who have been with the company for less than 12 months, are entitled to take 13 weeks of leave, with 6 weeks of enhanced paternity pay. The CIPD is now miles ahead of most employers.

Ideally, it should be the government that steps up and legislates for genuine equality in parental leave. But as I have argued before, businesses are increasingly realising the importance of social responsibility and of leading the way in job quality, employee wellbeing and yes, equality too. The CIPD does as it preaches and I am delighted to be a part of it. Third time lucky indeed.

 

 

 

 

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