Last week the UK government announced that, whilst there will be no move to increase state-supported maternity leave from nine months to a year, families will be given the chance for fathers to take up to six months paternity leave after the mother's initial six months off. This paternity leave will include three months paid for by the state, but dads will have the legal right to take up to the full six months off with their young child, without being penalised by the company they work for.
Former politician Peter Örn champions Sweden's excellent paternity rights
UK paternity leave – would it work?
As with maternity leave, paternity leave is protected to some extent by law, but few companies will top up the state allowance for parental leave to match your usual salary, so taking time off will usually just give you the basic minimum. And whilst it's great to have the legal right to take more time off to be with your child, it's not always easy to live off either no income or the much-reduced state allowance instead of your regular pay.
For men's rights and women's rights, you can get really useful online guidance on what's right for you, and what you can expect to recieve in financial support, at www.direct.gov.uk.
However, if there is the opportunity for dads to take more time off, it might eventually become something which families save up for as part of having a new family and larger companies might begin to pay some kind of top-up gesture. At least having the right to take it not only means dads get the chance to be with their baby: companies will eventually get used to the fact that men as well as women are likely to take time off when they have a child – giving female prospective employees a slightly more equal playing field with males!
Can we learn from Swedish dads?
Sweden has had the best paternity allowances in the world for over two decades. The current allowances mean that dads gets ten days' paid leave at the birth of their child and then have an allowance of up to 16 months leave paid at 80 per cent of their salary (though this is capped for higher earners).
Swedish dads value the chance to spend time with their young children
Overall, there is a total of an amazing 480 days' parental leave available to new parents, with 60 days reserved for each parent and the remaining time allowable as the couple see fit. The reason for the reserved 60 days is to encourage dads to take their share – those 60 days can't be transferred to the mum, so if dad doesn't take them, they're lost.
Even with the whopping 80 per cent of salary on the table, this extended leave still means many families find the financial hardship too tricky to manage, but where dads have taken up the offer, Sweden has seen a real benefit to the children being raised.
BabyBjörn champions paternity rights
Swedish company BabyBjörn might be an international brand for many nursery goods, but it is also very proud of its homeland's pioneering attitude to parental rights for mums and dads.<[>
The company also has a strong bond with the idea of dads playing their part. More than 40 years ago, Björn Jakobson developed the carrier and it quickly became one of the first ways in which dads felt comfortable carrying their babies around. (A carrier was more rugged than pushing a pram and came along way before funky pushchair makers realised they could make buggies that looked less girly!)
Aspiring to what Sweden have already achieved
BabyBjörn invited ThinkBaby over to Sweden to meet one of the founders of the now established 'papa' rights legislation, Peter Örn. He is still a passionate supporter of the rights not just on behalf of men but for what they mean to the whole family – giving back mothers their chance to reconnect with work, children the chance to spend quality early years time with both parents, and fathers the opportunity not only to bond with their children but appreciate every aspect of parental responsibility.
Örn describes this as, "The Gender Connection". "Fathers are taking responsibility," he says. "There is a feeling of modern fatherhood, of being a dad in Sweden and being part of the life poetry. In the 1990s feminism became part of mainstream politics here, and at the same time men began to see the chance NOT to be like their fathers."
Swedish children benefit from quality time with both parents
He concedes that with 80 per cent of fathers still not taking up their full allowance let alone sharing the whole 480 days, "there is still a lot to do". But, as he points out, "Equality is still a fairtyale but what we have in Sweden means we are 'more equal' than other countries."
Walking around Stockholm there is a visible difference from London. At children's play areas and museums you see many more young dads as well as mums spending time with their children. We met some of the young dads who are making the most of their country's paternity allowances. They were keen to stress that, whilst they had to share the everyday chores of parenthood as well as the fun aspects of time off work, it was an experience they wouldn't change for the world.
Roll on our chance to at least try for something more equal here in the UK…