When maternity leave is controversial and evokes mixed reactions, paternity leave can be only even more so. In the UK, the Labour Party has proposed a law which allows fathers to take up to six months off, with three months paid at £123.06 a week, provided the mother returns to work when the father is on paternity leave. Currently, the UK allows fathers to take two weeks' paternity leave after the baby’s birth and receive Statutory Paternity Pay of £123.06 a week. Of course, it is very possible that this could be just an election pledge and might not be implemented after the elections, even if the Labour Party returns to power.
If this law is implemented, it will make British businesses very unhappy. Even though the Statutory Paternity Pay is not very high (£123.06 a week), this law will encourage many fathers to stay at home for six months and send their wives back to work. If implemented, it will definitely reduce the number of women who are forced to stop working after having a baby. However, unlike maternity leave which does not depend on whether the father is working or not, this extended paternity leave is available only if the mother returns to work, In other words, this benefit will not be available to men whose wives don’t work.
I have blogged about maternity leave in the past. The fundamental objective behind benefits such as maternity leave and paternity leave is to have all taxpayers share the cost of bringing up children. In a welfare state such as the UK, maternity benefits are much more generous than in countries like say, the United States. In the UK, Statutory Maternity Leave is for 52 weeks and Statutory Maternity Pay is for up to 39 weeks (9 months) of the maternity leave. In the UK, few politicians openly oppose maternity benefits, though I’ve heard many a single person and married men without kids, crib about them. However, paternity leave is unlikely to be half as welcome as maternity leave. Further, if this Labour Party proposal is implemented, businesses are unlikely to top it up as they do in the case of maternity leave. For example, even though Statutory Maternity Pay is only 90 per cent of average gross weekly earnings for the first six weeks and £123.06 per week for the remaining 33 weeks, it is very common for employers in the UK to give full pay for 3 months and in some cases for up to six months. I doubt if this will happen in the case of paternity leave.
Of course, for this proposal to be implemented, Labour needs to win the May 2010 elections. As of now, they are the underdogs and I don’t give them more than a 30% chance of success in the elections scheduled scheduled for May 2010.