The British government has just announced plans for reforms to their maternity leave guidelines, saying that they may allow couples to share maternity leave, rather than giving it almost solely to women. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, described the current system as “Edwardian.” The changes would mean that, after April, women who return to work without using their full year of maternity leave could give the rest of their leave to the child’s father, up to a maximum of six months.
Fathers are currently allowed a “paltry” two weeks of paternity leave, an allotment that Clegg said “patronizes women and marginalizes men.” But Clegg also says that the British government wants to go much further, even allowing close friends and relatives to take parts of new parents’ leave. He hopes that this would destigmatize paternity leave for men, as well as acknowledging that having a child in a modern context is complex, and families often make a variety of arrangements so that mothers can begin to go back to work soon after a child is born.
“By extending flexible leave, for example to grandparents, or close family friends, we hope to make it much more common – a cultural norm,” Clegg explained.
Business leaders are not happy with the new plan, saying that it will simply result in more red tape. “Business is not against the principle of shared parental leave, but how is an employer expected to plan and arrange cover with this fully flexible system?” said a spokesman from the British Chambers of Commerce.
The Swedes have been rather successful in convincing men to take paternity leave, and the British are clearly moving toward a similar system. And although businesses don’t seem happy with the prospect of having to give more leave to employees, ultimately this will vastly improve the lives of parents across the country, and make it much easier for women to balance a career and a strong family life. Now only if the United States would jump on board…
Photo from Flickr.