Parliament

Draft Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Published date : 27 February, 2024
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this morning, Mr Hosie. On behalf of my party, I very much welcome the statutory instrument. It is important to recognise that we are broadly congratulatory on the greater flexibilities, but I will mark a waypoint on the public record about how far the UK still lags behind other jurisdictions.

I will give two examples across the North sea. On the length of parental leave, Norway allows 49 weeks of parental leave, with 15 weeks reserved for each parent. Sweden allows 480 days of parental leave, with each parent, if there are two, allowed 240 of those days. While we recognise the flexibility that this legislation will bring, let us not forget how far behind many other prosperous northern European societies we are. With that said, anything that makes it easier to take paternity leave and encourages its uptake must be a good thing. To that extent, we very much welcome the flexibility brought by the legislation on the timing of the leave, the notice required to be given in order to take up that leave and the flexibility in how it is taken.

To speak personally as a father of two, when I took some parental leave after the birth of my first child, the first week certainly was not terribly restful, and getting back to work was actually a blessed relief in many respects. The poor girl was tongue-tied. That was not noticed in the hospital, and feeding her became far more of a challenge that it ought to have been, which was to her great detriment. However, having flexibilities in the legislation might have helped us to navigate that. At the time, I was a local authority councillor; I had a great deal more flexibility than many other people—certainly many other fathers—in how I could manage my workload to balance home life and get as much of those precious early few weeks with both my children after they were born as I could. I certainly benefited from that, and I hope that as a family unit we all benefit from it going forward. As the Minister said, there is a considerable body of evidence showing that when fathers are involved in caring for their children and in their upbringing, a range of better outcomes result across the course of everyone’s lives.

I will veer off momentarily to say how important this legislation is in tackling gender inequalities. At Prime Minister’s questions on International Women’s Day, I highlighted a report by the pension firm Scottish Widows that showed that women were retiring with a pension pot worth £123,000 less on average than men. Further, a woman aged 25 today would be on track to retire with a pension pot £100,000 less than her male counterpart.

There is no doubt that a whole range of reasons that contribute to that, including discrimination and attitudes in the workplace, a large part of which come back to the differences that emerge after people go on to start a family. Anything that recalibrates attitudes and which not just allows but encourages men to play a more active role in the upbringing of their children, in particular to get involved at that early stage, hopefully breeding good habits that go on as their children grow up, has to be a good thing.

There is no single measure that will tackle that gender inequality, particularly that gap. Rather, a series of small measures such as this one will start to make the difference. I very much welcome the flexibilities in the regulations, but we need to remember that there are other places that are doing this much better than us in the overall amount of leave for parents of whatever gender, and I firmly believe that we should aspire to improve that as well.

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