Leave of Sense

Having recently welcomed my first child into the world, I took two weeks off my public sector, College lecturing. I was shocked, however, when my pay arrived in the bank, considerably less than usual, as I’d only been given the ordinary statutory payment (SMP), which is £138.18 per week! My bank account was empty – just at the time when life has suddenly become more expensive.

That time off was vital in helping me to adjust to all the new duties – nappy-changing, baby-bathing and, of course, coping with much less sleep than previously. Being there and helping for the first two weeks was incredibly important and I think that government should ensure that fathers are not penalised for taking time off.

Why can’t employers just treat this as two weeks absence (equivalent to the usual length of a holiday or illness) with full pay maintained? Surely, this would have a negligible effect on businesses, but be a huge boost for new dads (and their families!)? Of course, a fair cap would need to be introduced, possibly set at the level where individuals start paying higher rate income tax (£41,865 or about £800 per week – before tax!). This would reduce costs of change and be more equitable.

Both the Local Council and College where I live seem to have the same policy and do not offer any top-up to the statutory minimum. I note, however, that NHS Scotland seems to be much more generous and basically keeps fathers on full-pay during their two-week paternity leave. Meanwhile, Council workers in the Highlands, doing exactly the same job, receive one week full pay, followed by one week SMP, which is a considerable improvement.

Sweden, however, lead the way. There appears to be a “daddy month”, meaning that if both parents take at least one month leave, then they’ll receive an extra month on their total allowance. Then, in 2002, this was expanded to TWO MONTHS!

Surely, two weeks fully-paid leave for a new dad is the least that should be offered.

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