While legislation to encourage fathers to take a bigger share in the care of very young children is being prepared, the youngest Tory minister in the relevant department is going to practise what the government preaches by taking two months’ paternity leave.
Matthew Hancock, a minister in the Business Department, will next month become a father for the third time, and will take July and August off to be with his children. He admits his privileged position as an MP, and the fortunate timing of the birth at the start of Parliament’s long summer break makes this possible for him, and wishes that more men could take long paternity leave without damaging their careers.
The first thing most employees have to do when planning parental leave is clear it with their line manager. Mr Hancock’s nominal boss is the Business Secretary, Vince Cable. But when asked how Mr Cable had reacted to the news, Mr Hancock confessed: “Do you know what? I haven’t asked him.”
Last week, the Business, Innovation and Skills department completed a consultation on the potential impact of planned legislation which will give mothers and fathers of newborn children the right to take equal amounts of paid maternity leave. Ministers hope this will make it easier for mothers to return to work.
Mr Hancock said: “By law, I can take two weeks’ paternity leave. I’ll then be taking a mixture of holiday and then it’ll be the parliamentary recess, so I will take two months off.
“This is possible for me because of the timing of the summer recess and the peculiarities of life as an MP, but we need to make it available more broadly. Under the new laws the Government is bringing in, my wife and I would be able to have the same amount of maternity and paternity leave between us, but share it.
“I’m a strong supporter of shared paternity leave and maternity leave, so that it becomes normal for people to take a break when they have children, whether they’re men or women, and that their career isn’t put back by taking a break, as it often is now. That’s an important example of changes in the workplace that can move some of the cultural barriers to women progressing to senior levels.”
Today, Mr Hancock will be speaking at the opening event of the HowTheLightGetsIn festival in Hay-on-Wye, on the subject of whether society has gone too far towards transferring power from men to women, alongside the American feminist Carol Gilligan and the radical feminist Finn Mackay. He says that the short answer to this question is “no”.
“The answer is we are still moving in that direction, thankfully,” he said. “But there is much, much further to go, so to argue that we have cracked it is completely premature. And to argue that young men are disadvantaged is over the top. We still need to do much more to change the workplace to make it more female friendly, especially in upper echelons.
“I’m a strong advocate of more women in Parliament. We made a lot of progress in the Conservative Party in the 2010 election, but it takes time.”