Pressure mounts on ministers over paternity leave , but not for PM

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Indy Politics

The Government faced mounting pressure yesterday to introduce paid paternity leave as a new poll showed that the majority of people would support such a measure.

However, the same survey came as a blow to hopes that Tony Blair would set an example and take time off his prime ministerial duties when his fourth baby is born later this year. A majority of those questioned, 57 per cent, said that Mr Blair should not take the leave because of his exceptional job of running the country.

The Mail on Sunday/Mori poll found that only one-quarter of those questioned thought he should take the paternity leave which he is entitled to, while a further 6 per cent suggested that he give up his day job altogether.

Almost two-thirds of men, more than 50 per cent of women and 52 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 said that running the country should come first.

This was despite a finding that 45 per cent of people strongly agree and a further 27 per cent tend to agree that men should have the right to paid paternity leave following the birth of their child. Ten per cent of people strongly disagreed and 12 per cent tended to disagree. Mr Blair said last week he had not decided whether to take any of the 13 weeks of unpaid paternal leave in the first five years of the baby's life.

Meanwhile, Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security, said his "mind was open" to suggestions that paid paternity leave be announced in this year's Comprehensive Spending Review. Ministers are deciding whether parents should get a flat-rate weekly payment or whether it should be earnings-related, which would be more expensive for the taxpayer.

"The Chancellor announced in his Budget that Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, was going to look at the whole question of parental leave and we'll look at his report when it's published," Mr Darling said.

"My mind is always open to good ideas, but the Government is determined to do as much as it can to support families with children."

The Government's ambitious plans to remodel the benefits system have "fractured", the former welfare reform minister, Frank Field, will claim today.

The Birkenhead MP will warn that, far from contributing to the Government's drive to combat problems of social exclusion, many of New Labour's welfare reforms have become "an ever-more powerful agent of exclusion." Mr Field puts forward the argument in his new book, The State of Dependency, published by the Social Market Foundation.

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