Monday, 24 March 2014

Why don't more dads take paternity leave?

I'm not always at my best (or most awake) on Sunday afternoon (can't think why!) so it's not always a good time to have to take a telephone call, especially when it's the BBC Radio Four Today Programme asking what I think of the above question.

According to a new study by The Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) one in four new fathers don't take any paternity leave at all and few more go beyond the statutory two week break.

The research - among almost 1,000 employees and 800 managers - found that a lack of support from employers was to blame for limiting time off among men after the birth of their child and the survey also found that fewer than one in 10 new fathers take more than two weeks of paternity leave, falling to just 2% among managers.

So what do I think?

Initially, I was rather surprised. But then on reflection, saddened. Because if, as is still the case in so many families, dads earn the main salary then at a time of greatest financial need clearly many families simply can't afford the loss of earnings. In spite of fine, family-friendly words from the government, the reality of so many childcare initiatives is often less than satisfactory.

I'm always rather suspicious about attempts to get parents back to work too - to earn more money to pay someone else to look after the children. But that's what successive governments badger us to do.

I don't think we should all stay at home singing 'The Wheels on the Bus'. But I can't help noticing that those who really benefit from a swift return to work are George Osbourne and the blessed Taxman. Think about it - you go to work (and therefore pay tax) to pay someone else for childcare and then they pay tax on their earnings. It's two for the price of one - Bingo!

Or maybe that's not quite the word to use in the circumstances.

In the event the item on the 'Today' programme didn't run (or if it did, not with me) but I thought the findings were important enough to share and discuss.

I've had a wonderful five years at home with my two youngest. It's suited our circumstances and - with a bit of belt-tightening - we can (just) afford it. And I think it's a shame if other dads feel they can't manage it or if mums feel pressured into giving up or going back to work or doing anything that doesn't suit them and the needs of their family.

It's all about flexibility. At the end of the day if only a fraction of dads choose to take up the existing entitlement or plan to use the new shared arrangements it doesn't matter - if that's what suits them and their family.

But if it doesn't and they feel they can't do any different, it's a tragedy.

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