Jospin bolsters support for the left with more paid time off for fathers

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French fathers of newly-born children will be able to take two weeks' state-funded leave from next year, making France'spaternity provisionsthe most generous in the EU outside Scandinavia.

At present fathers in France can take three days paid leave when a child is born ­ the same as in Britain. The French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, will announce the increase today, with a recommendation to employers that recent fathers should be allowed to take up to a month away from work by making use of days off generated by the recently installed 35-hour working week.

Speaking to the annual Family Conference in Paris, Mr Jospin will say that the new measures are intended to recognise ­ and promote ­ the increased responsibility for child-rearing taken by men in France.

The proposal ­ 11 months before the presidential election ­ is also intended to reinforce his centre-left coalition's flagging reputation as a caring and reforming government.

Christine Castelain-Meunier, a French sociologist and specialist on fatherhood, described the measure "as the beginning of a revolution in the patterns of family life. The state is recognising for the first time that the man also has a role to play in the home and in the family and in the care for an infant child." Based on the take-up for similar schemes in Nordic countries, the French government expects only two in five fathers to accept the leave in full.

The family allowance section of the social security budget ­ funded by levies on employers and employees ­ will pay the wages of fathers on leave up to to a maximum of £375 a week.

The total cost to the social security budget will be between £70m and £100m a year. The French employers' federation has protested that increased leave ­ justified though it may be ­ should not become an additional burden on the already high social charges on business.

Swedish fathers have had the right to 40 days state-paid paternity leave since 1980. The Finns have 18 days, the Danes two weeks, the Portuguese five days and the British, Germans, Spanish and Italians three days.

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