I’ve been mulling over what we will do about childcare when J starts school recently, and to be honest it scares me! I have been reading around our options, and naturally the new shared parental leave policies and prospective childcare policies have been popping up on my news feed encouraging me to think about how Mr B and I will manage this between us.
To be honest the policy background leaves me thinking ‘is this it?’
The Children’s and Families Act 2014 introduced a new entitlement for employees who are parents, to take shared parental leave (SPL) in the first year of their child’s life (or the first year after adoption). I’ve blogged before in my post ‘What About Daddy’ about the sense of missing out Fathers can feel heading back to work after their two weeks paternity leave. As it happens this month Daddy has just reduced his working week by two days to spend more time with J while I work full time, so this is highly topical in our house.
Previous policy interventions including additional paternity leave (APL) have seen a low take up though (with just 1.4% of new fathers taking it in 2012-13)* – cultural barriers are likely to be at work here, fathers are nearly twice as likely as mothers to have requests for flexible working turned down; in 2012, 18% of men who requested flexible arrangements were refused, compared with 10% of women.
Under SPL eligible working parents (you can check your eligibility here) can decide how to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay, including being off at the same time or regularly swapping.
Our take on it
For our family this might have made a difference when J was born, financially at that time I was the bigger earner and from a cultural point of view, we both work in the voluntary sector where employers can be more sympathetic (I think more flexible in my experience) to changes in working requests and our colleagues, family and friends would have been more open to the idea too, but clearly the stats outlined above indicate not all employers will be as open to these changes.
In comparison to Labour’s ideas about paternity leave (extended to four weeks and with a weekly pay increase) plenty of tabloids are referring to SPL as ‘progressive’ but for me both policies are lacking and lagging behind; in Norway shared parental leave was introduced in 1977! I’d like to see a little more ambition for early years policy!
Money isn’t everything, which is why we are accepting a drop in household income at this time to enjoy more time with J whilst both working, but being able to do this is a luxury, we will still enjoy a decent standard of living, and this was something we really had to weigh up in terms of where we are at in our careers and employment status. I recall policy and primary research I was reading about a year ago when studying; plenty of mums reported having to go into work to be interviewed for their own jobs, to talk about possible redundancy situations or threats of reduced hours, even in early maternity, a time when these issues would have worried me deeply in my post-natal anxiety state, we are not safe from threats to family income and livelihood even at this precious time. Choosing to share parental leave would thus be a difficult decision, a weighing up of the work environment, each parent’s income, their hopes and wishes and whether either can really afford to take leave.
My hubby and I believe in sharing our parental responsibilities, we both work hard and play hard; like everyone else we do this against a backdrop of cuts in local early years services, potential job loss, reduced costs of living and our costs of childcare have a strong impact too – these policies don’t go far enough towards supporting families, supporting them for a year after birth is important, it’s an important time in terms of bonding, but it stops there, what happens when the leave comes to an end? Is that really where shared parental responsibilities end, surely it’s only the beginning!?
Affordable childcare a must
Until we have a better system of affordable childcare parents cannot truly share the rewards and joys of child rearing. All of our friends with little ones Js age talk about their fears about wraparound childcare and making that work, of reduced hours, or increased pressure on grandparents, and it’s a fear we share too. I feel strongly that free childcare should be extended to all two year olds but also that this should also be increased beyond the current 15 hours for older preschoolers too, this would reduce the financial strain and keep more parents economically active too; a better universal offer would really interest me, in the meantime we’ll continue to look at best and worst case scenarios for childcare for the coming three years and keep trying to make our family situation work in the best way we can!