Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Professor Hilary Land, Bristol University (PL 24)


    —  The introduction of a new right to parental leave is welcome. However it is a very timid first step and those without employers able and willing to make payments for such leave may well feel unable to use such leave as much as they would like. This will therefore disadvantage poorer families.

    —  Evidence from other European countries which have had parental leave for over twenty years shows that payment is important. It also shows that giving parents the choice about who takes the leave means that in the vast majority of families it is the mothers who continue to take it. If the objective is to increase the involvement of more fathers in the care of their small children then paternity leave has to be introduced.

    —  Unpaid paternity leave raises important questions about responsibilities and capacities to maintain pension rights and payments.

  1.  The introduction of a new right to three month's parental leave for men and women when they have a baby or adopt a child and to time off for urgent family reasons is welcome. However, the inclusion of these rights in the Employment Relations Bill is little more than the minimum needed to conform with the Parental Leave Directive.

  2.  The main limitation is that this leave is unpaid, and therefore many mothers and even more fathers will not be able to afford to take full advantage of this leave. The simplification and extension of existing maternity rights is welcome too but it will still be the case the U.K. provision for paid maternity leave is not generous compared with most other EU countries. In other words, these new rights build on a rather slim base.

  3.  If the new parental leave remains unpaid in the U.K., will pension rights be protected? Just as important, who will be responsible for maintaining pension contributions? It is clear that the basic state pension will be protected but what about stakeholders, occupational and personal pensions?

  4.  Evidence from other European countries which introduced paid parental leave, both following the birth of a child or for emergencies concerning the children, over twenty years ago (see Kamerman & Kahn, 1978) shows that it is important such leave is paid if uptake is to be widespread. Such leave was usually made part of the social insurance system to which both employers and employees contribute. This made the administration and funding of this leave straightforward and not a heavy burden on employers.

  5.  The context of the introduction of these new rights appears to be a desire to make employment more "family friendly" for both mothers and fathers. Together with the national child care strategy the intention is to facilitate the employment of mothers and the dual-earner family. The Working Families Tax Credit with the new Child Care Tax Credits will also assist employed mothers , although it remains to be seen whether or not it will encourage dual earner families to become single breadwinner families as the Institute of Fiscal Studies argued in their evidence to this committee when the tax credit scheme was under consideration.

  6.  Parental and paternity leave was introduced in Scandinavian countries in the mid 1970s. Their experience shows very clearly that if the objective of these policies is to increase the involvement of fathers in the care of their young children more needs to be done. (Employed parents are entitled to a leave of absence for forty two weeks with 100 per cent wage compensation or fifty two weeks at 80 per cent, while retaining both job security and social security rights). Mothers must take leave three weeks before and six weeks after the birth of the baby. Fathers are entitled to two weeks unpaid paternity leave and many employers now give wage compensation and the uptake has been high. However the right to share parental leave had not been in much demand. In this Norway is little different from other OECD countries. Studies from Denmark, Finland, Germany and Norway show that fewer than 5 per cent of fathers have made use of this entitlement. Sweden was an exception with one in four eligible fathers taking at least some days of leave. (OECD, 1955 187). Studies also show that fathers who take this parental leave on a voluntary basis are well-educated, have permanent jobs, and have high incomes.

  7.  Since 1993, Norway has reserved four weeks of parental leave for fathers i.e. this period cannot be taken instead by mothers. The introduction of the quota resulted in 80 per cent of fathers eligible to take it, doing so. Of those fathers who did not use the quota, some felt their employers did not approve and others worked shifts and therefore spent time with their children anyway. Some did not get full wage compensation because the amount depends in part on mothers' hours of employment. (Leira, 1999).

  8.  Introducing a right for employed mothers and fathers to take leave in order to care for their children is an important step in shifting the balance of responsibilities for the care of children between parents. However evidence from those countries which have had such measures in place for over twenty years shows that much more needs to be done if part-time work, interrupted employment patterns and absence for family reasons is not to remain strongly associated with women's employment. As Arnlaugh Leira, a Norwegian expert on child care policies in Scandinavia concludes in her study of recent policy changes "Mothers have changed the gender balance in breadwinning. Changing the gender balance in caring may prove even more difficult". (Leira, 1998, 375).


  Kamerman, Sand Kahn, A., Family Policies Government and Families in fourteen Countries, Columbia University Press 1978

  Leira, A. "Cash for Child Care and Daddy Leave" Social Politics, Oxford University Press Autumn 1998

  OECD, "Long Term Leave for Parents in OECD Countries". Employment Outlook, para OECD 1995

June 1999

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