This particular policy came about as a result of the analysis we did here on this very blog:
Just 1 per cent of new fathers are using a new right to take extra paid paternity leave while their partners go back to work, figures reveal. Additional Paternity Leave was introduced in 2011 as part of ‘shared parenting’ plans promoted by the Liberal Democrats, which they claimed would revolutionise family life. But in a humiliating blow to Nick Clegg, just 1.4 per cent of new fathers currently make use of the scheme.
The genesis was our making the obvious point that we don’t really have a gender pay gap in the UK any more. We have a motherhood pay gap. This was picked up by a Lib Dem activist (yes, we do know the name) and then went through the party’s policy making process and became law. That it doesn’t seem to have made much difference could be described as a failure of either the policy or the original analysis.
However, that’s not quite the way to think about it. The better way is to consider that if we’ve a perceived inequity that is a result of things being done to people then we might want to work to stop those things being done. However, if that perceived inequity comes from people making free choices (and obviously ones that do not impinge upon the rights of others) then that final result isn’t actually an inequity. It’s just an outcome of the deecisions that people have been free to make.
So it is with shared parental leave. If the option is there, but people don’t take it, then the continuation of that motherhood pay gap is not because of restrictions upon what people may or may not do. It’s there because that’s just how the majority of people desire to organise their lives.
And if you don’t understand this sort of difference then you’re going to be led into this sort of error:
Labour shadow childcare minister Lucy Powell, who uncovered the figures, claimed workplace culture still discourages men from saying at home. She said her own husband had refused to take more than two weeks’ paternity leave, fearing the reaction from his colleagues in the NHS. In an interview with MailOnline, Miss Powell suggested paternity pay may have to rise to encourage fathers to take more time off – unless there is a culture change for it to become more acceptable to men and their employers to equally share the childcare burden.
No, we don’t want to force people into some set of approved behaviours. We want to offer the freedom and liberty for people to express their own preferences.
And as to raising the rate of paternity pay: this really isn’t going to work at all. For along with that motherhood pay gap we see as many mothers cut back on their commitment to a career as they raise their children we also see a fathers’ pay premium. Men with children do, after correcting for age and qualifications, earn more than men without children. There’s obviously something innate in human behaviour going on here. Mothers staying near the cave to look after the young ones, fathers going off hunting mammoth to keep them all fed sort of thing.
Perhaps some people don’t like this arrangement, it’s even possible that we shouldn’t like this arrangement but if that’s what free people decide to do with their liberty then who are we to try and change what they’re doing?