Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Push dads to share the baby burden

Without extra pressure, how many will risk screwing up their careers?

It’s a painful process, childbirth: but it isn’t half as agonising as watching the Government tinker around with our “outdated Edwardian parental leave laws” – to quote our deputy PM.

Nick Clegg must be feeling pretty chuffed he’s finally got the green light to announce that mums and dads can split their time off but remember this was a process that started in 2003 with the right to two weeks’ leave for new fathers. And it doesn’t even kick in until April 2015.

But if he thinks I’m equally thrilled well, sorry, but I’ve got some bad news. Didn’t he see the recent TUC survey showing that fewer than 1 per cent of dads are stepping in to fill the void if mums choose to go back after 26 weeks (an option the Government introduced in April 2011)?

If Mr Clegg really wants to end the sort of workplace discrimination that makes women over 35 a rarity, he needs to coerce dads into doing their bit. The Swedes have a “use-it-or-lose-it” approach that means fathers lose two of the potential 14 months on offer to them if they don’t take it. (The same two-month rule applies to mums.)

The upshot is Swedish bosses have the “same risk” of their female and male employees needing some time off, which has obvious repercussions when they are thinking of hiring or promoting someone as the (female) head of a Swedish kidswear brand once told me. Bottom line: in Sweden it’s “accepted to prioritise to be with your family because most employers are very open-minded and flexible,” she added.

But this isn’t even all about the mums. Without a little extra pressure, how many dads are going to risk screwing up their career for the sake of a few months at home with a small baby? Because let’s be blunt, that’s what they’ll worry will happen. With good reason, many of my female friends might add.

Yet how many dads feel hurt when their little ones run a mile when they try to help with bath time or read them a story on the rare night they have made it home. And again, let’s be honest. 

Giving fathers the legislative balls to stay at home can only be good for their children, their home life, and yes, their partners, who need help to stop British bosses thinking of childcare as women’s work.