Fathers will be entitled to six months of paternity leave - including three paid - as of April 2011, according to a new Government plan announced by Gordon Brown at the Trade Unions Congress on Tuesday. The new set-up is being trumpeted as a way to give families more flexibility in balancing their home and work life, which is a noble aspiration. But even if it does make it onto the statute book, it doesn't sound like many people are likely to take up the offer - which given the current economic climate, may sound like good news to business owners...
As always with these things, the deal is not as generous as it first sounds. Currently, women are entitled to twelve months' maternity leave, nine of which are paid, while men get a measly two weeks. This new arrangement would effectively allow Mums and Dads to 'share' leave - so if Mum goes back to work after six months, Dad can choose to take the next six as leave, three of which would be paid. 'Labour believes in giving couples more freedom, dads more rights and children more time with the two people who love them most,' Brown tub-thumped today.
This quote's a reminder that we need to see this in context. Yesterday a Times poll found that 48% of voters reckon that 'literally anyone' in the Labour party has more chance of winning the election than Brown. And since the PM also used the speech to back-track on his ludicrous refusal to talk about cuts - which are unlikely to go down well with the unions - he needed some kind of worker-friendly sop. So we probably shouldn't see this as some kind of political sea-change. After all, in the same breath the Government has downgraded its proposal to extend paid maternity leave to one year; it's now an 'aspiration' rather than a 'goal' (which basically means it won't happen).
Clearly there's a lot to be said for this kind of move - both in giving fathers the chance to spend more time with their children, and in making it easier for working mothers to return to work if they so wish. But businesses might be forgiven for seeing it as another burden that they don't really need at the moment - from an admin, staffing and cost point of view.
On the other hand, the good news for them is that not many people are expected to take up the offer - fewer than 6%, even on the Government's own estimate. According to business minister Pat McFadden less than 1% of small firms will even be affected. Which we suppose makes it even more ideal as a political point-scoring exercise...
In today's bulletin:
Jobless count hits 14-year high - but is the rot slowing?
Could Lloyds be forced to give up Halifax?
Facebook in 'actually making money' shock
Next: It's a recession, not Armageddon
Dads to get more paternity leave (maybe)