For the last three years or FNF have stepped up our lobbying for provision for paternity leave to be substantially increased. The penny dropped after we attended a powerful presentation at the Scottish Parliament by Malin Bergsrom of Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Her presentation and subsequent discussions with her convinced us that this is one of the most important factors in transforming our culture towards shared parenting whether together or apart. When Sweden introduced equality legislation in the 1970s they took this responsibility far more seriously than we did. Over time they supported generously funded, non-transferable paternity leave it i.e. it was introduced on a 'use it or lose it' basis for three months or more. Since then shared parenting after family separation has grown by approximately 1% a year. Indeed, that is not just 'shared parenting', but rather 'joint parenting' which is defined as roughly 50/50 and no less than 35%. Today when parents in Sweden separate joint care or 50/50 care is considered to be the norm. Amazingly they achieve this with just 4% relying on courts, compared to 38% here.
Other Scandinavian countries pursued similar policies. Finland, a couple of years ago, became the first and only country where fathers spend more time caring for their children than mothers - only by eight minutes a day, so in effect they have achieved parental equality.
The Scandinavians believe in research and they have studied the effect of their policies on their societies. The results have been impressive, not least on the children who enjoy joint care and experience fewer mental health difficulties and do better on a whole range of measures of wellbeing.
Meanwhle back home, for a couple on average incomes of £27,500 each a year, matrnity leave is supported by the state to the tune of around £7,500. The only guaranteed state support for paternity leave that dad's can rely on is £148.68 per week for two weeks - a gender support gap of 96%!
We have been using these studies to lobby our politicians and using opportunities to promote paternity leave whenever those opportunities have arisen. We've done this with the Women and Equalities Select Committee, individual MPs, even whilst sharing a lift with Jess Phillips MP. Last week we called out Stella Creasy MP for seeking to blame fathers for not taking more time off to look after children. She made her comments at the launch in Parliament of the latesst British Social Attitudes report published by the National Centre for Social Research. Their study showed that in just six years between 2012 and 2018 the proportion of the public who supported 50/50 parental leave had gone up from 22% to 34%! Our question to the panel and Ms Creasy sparked a 10 minute debate with a room of professionals and parliamentarians.
Last year the Women and Equalities Select Committee Inquiry recommended that paternitly leave should be supported at a rate of 90% of pay for a month. The Government rejected the proposal. The Committee's recommendations were essentially intnded to support a reduction in the 'gender pay gap'. Whatever their reasons, we supported them, perhaps even taking them and the Government by surprise as to the extent of our support. That Theresa May has now put this firmly on the agenda is a parting gift from the Prime Miniser that we should welcome.
We'll keep you posted on the consultation.