Mum and Dad sharing maternity leave – a good idea?

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paternity leave

paternity leaveShould fathers be able to share maternity leave (and pay) with mothers?

That’s exactly what the government is proposing in controversial new plans.

The idea is that dads will be able to take time off and claim state maternity benefits for a year – provided the mother has returned to employment.

These measures wouldn’t come into effect until 2015 – but they’ve already ruffled feathers.

What’s all the fuss about?

On the one hand, many think these proposals are much fairer for fathers who want to be more involved in raising their kids (and for families where mum is the main breadwinner).

On the other hand, some say that this would harm UK businesses and the economy.

Under the current system mothers are entitled to 90% of their salary for the first six weeks after birth; after this period they either get the 90% of their earnings or £135.45 a week for an additional 33 weeks (whichever is lowest). The new changes would mean that either the mother or the father can claim this allowance after two weeks.

Official figures suggest that nearly half a million families would benefit from the proposals each year.

A good thing?

In my opinion, this can only be good news. One third of mothers go into debt following pregnancy, according to uSwitch.com, and many see their net monthly income drop below the red line.

Have you heard of föräldraledighe? No, it has nothing to do with fondue.

The term is Swedish and describes their generous leave for parents. Parents are given 480 days between them of paid maternity leave at a rate of 80% of their salary. Jealous?

What’s more, these 480 days can be split between parents. The evidence from Sweden suggests that the scheme isn’t just good news for fathers – Swedish mothers’ future earnings increase by 7% over a four-year period for every month of parental leave the man takes.

In the UK, the Federation of Small Businesses oppose the current reforms, saying that they are anti-business and come at a wrong time given the state of British economy.

Now, it is not unreasonable to be cautious about these changes and the impact they will have. But as things stand, aren’t we effectively placing men on a pedestal? After all, women work just as hard as men!

What will change?

One obvious question that everyone would be asking is, so just what has changed? And the answer is nothing much really. Instead of maternity leave meant for just the mother, it can now transfer over to the father. Are we as a society going to be worse off if men take paternity leaves instead of mothers?

The devil is in the detail and don’t let the hype about the changes get to you.  Mothers are still entitled to automatic maternity leave and only if they WISH to transfer their leave to the fathers would they do so.

The worst case scenario is that small businesses are going to be reluctant to hire men who are of a ‘certain age’ and looking to have kids. That would be the day!

But that’s unrealistic in my view. So let us hope that these progressive changes lead to better family life and do their own little bit for the good of society. After all, equality for women requires that men play a greater part in child-rearing.

Let us know what you think of these proposals and if you are going to be affected by them.