Proposals to introduce six months’ paternity leave have all the hallmarks of New Labour policy – an eye-catching, headline-grabbing idea that will have very little real effect.
Leaving aside the biologically incontrovertible, but politically explosive notion that it might benefit mother and baby to spend the child’s early days together, while the father’s role is pretty much redundant, what exactly is being offered here?
Many fathers will welcome the chance to spend time with their newborn child; many others will be indifferent. But six months with your newborn is no substitute for the longer-term relationship, which builds up over years.
Unless there is a profound change in working practices, no amount of post-natal parental leave will be adequate compensation.
The recent brouhaha about the ‘feminisation of the workplace’ seems to have missed the point. There may be more women in work, but any move towards the traditionally ‘feminine’ virtues of nurturing and caring for children and the family is noticeable by its absence.
For all the talk of ‘family friendly policies’, mums and dads are expected to put their family lives on the backburner if they want their careers to progress. And at least since the property boom of the 1980s, a double income has been for most families an economic necessity.
Government must decide which comes first – business or children. If it is business, then fine – we’ll give new parents a few months with their offspring before economic factors force them both back to stress-filled jobs while they pay out a fortune in childcare. But let’s not kid ourselves that this is any ‘choice’ at all.