The joys and responsibilities of parenthood are not shared equally in our society. And in later life, care for elderly parents tends to fall to daughters, rather than sons. This holds back women in the workplace – but men suffer from this imbalance, too: denied the opportunity to care for and enjoy time with their children or parents and penalised if they do choose to leave or reduce their work for caring.
Our goal is to achieve truly shared parenting and caregiving. This will help reduce the pay gap, make it easier for employers to hold on to good staff, permit more women to take on decisionmaking positions in business and beyond, enable more men to take part in childcare, and allow more children to benefit from time with both their parents.
WE stand for:
Equal parenting: equal leave
The new system of Shared Parental Leave is a step-change from the previous split between maternity leave of 52 weeks and paternity leave of just two. However, there is still a long way to go to ensure a fully balanced system of parental leave, where mothers and fathers are both able to take time out from work to care for their young children. Most working mothers are entitled to six weeks leave at 90% of pay while fathers are guaranteed no such leave: their paid entitlement is only two weeks and paid at the statutory level of just £139.58 a week. International evidence demonstrates that the best way to increase fathers’ take-up of parental leave is to allocate a longer and better compensated period on a “use it or lose it” basis – otherwise the stigma and cost of taking time away from work remain huge barriers to take-up.
Flexibility for all
Enlightened businesses now understand that, managed properly, flexible working is not a cost but a benefit to all involved, regardless of gender. Opening hours can be stretched and doing business with other time zones is easier; home working can save money by enabling you to use less office space; and flexibility can enable you to retain talented workers who otherwise would retire, move jobs, or devote themselves full time to caring responsibilities at home. WE will work with the business community to make flexible working the default.
Dads matter: changing the stigma
It is no wonder many fathers feel unable to take time away from work for their children when this is widely portrayed as unmanly, and services – from playgroups billed as “Mum and Baby time” to nappy-changing facilities located in the female toilets – seem built exclusively for mothers. WE will tackle the stigma and reform services, both public and private, to make it clear that a parent’s gender or sexual orientation does not determine their ability to care for their child.
The value of care
Care is undervalued despite its vital importance in nurturing our children, helping our families and friends through adulthood, and providing support and dignity at the end of life. It is often taken for granted that women enjoy caring and they often find their work sold short as a result. Meanwhile, men who wish to stay at home or enter the caring professions – in particular with children – are penalised and sometimes looked at with suspicion.
Those who care at home are classified by national statisticians as “economically inactive”, and most employers see time spent caring at home as a black hole, even though most parents and carers understand it is a huge learning experience that can enhance your skills. This must change.
Shared parenting and relationship breakdown
48% of couples divorcing had at least one child aged under 16 living with the family. When a child’s parents separate, the best thing for the child is to have a good relationship with both parents and for its parents to continue to co-operate. Of course, this is not always possible, and single parents need support, advice and – where relevant – a reliable system of child maintenance support. Nevertheless, WE will work to build a general social and legal expectation of the full involvement of both parents in the lives of their children even if the parents are not together, unless there is a pattern of violence or clear risk to either parent or child.