We’re often told these days that parties ‘are all the same’.
At least that’s the message right-wing media feed to people.
But one way to judge political parties is by their longer-term record.
What kind of thing has consistently mattered to them over a long period of time? What are their long-term values?
On parental leave – and the help it gives to families – the Labour party’s record is nothing if not consistent.
In 1975 a Labour government introduced the first UK Maternity Leave legislation – giving not only paid leave, but the right to return to work.
In 2003 a Labour government introduced the first statutory paternity leave.
In 2010 – among its last actions – a Labour government extended paternity rights
So Ed Miliband’s promise that the next Labour government will extend paternity leave still further simply continues that pattern.
Labour is proposing to
– Double the amount of time fathers get for paid paternity leave from two to four weeks;
– Raise paternity pay by more than £120 a week to at least £260 a week (amounting to the minimum wage).
As Ed Miliband puts it:
“The modern British family needs government to be more flexible in what it does to help. Parents work long and stressful hours, at different times of the day, and it is increasingly tough to balance this with giving our kids the best start in life they can get.
“At the same time as women are under pressure in their careers, more fathers want to play a hands-on role in childcare particularly in those first crucial weeks of a child’s life but are frustrated by out-dated laws and entitlements.
“The Tories want to spend £700m on what they call a married couple’s allowance – but which in fact will go to just one in five families with children.
“Instead, at the heart of Labour’s plan, is the belief that Britain succeeds when modern working families succeed.
“That means giving Dads, as well as Mums, the chance to spend more time at home in those crucial weeks after babies have been born.
“Thanks to the last Labour government, fathers have two weeks paid paternity leave. Millions of families have benefitted. Parents say this has helped them support each other, share caring responsibilities and bond with their children.
But the money isn’t great – and too many Dads don’t take up their rights because they feel they have to go back to work so they can provide for their family.
“So today we are announcing plans to double paid paternity leave and ensure the money available is as good as the National Minimum Wage.”
The proposal has produced the predictable howl from the right-wing press.
The same howl went up about maternity pay [and UKIP still think that’s a bad thing by the way], about the minimum wage, about every advance in the rights of workers.
It’s about time the right-wing media in this country woke up to the fact that the rights of workers are not the wrongs of business.
Good businesses are those which value their workforce – and show it.
And that’s not just a moral fact – it’s an economic one, too. Valued workers are more productive, and more loyal.
Labour has always understood this.
Just as it’s always understood the needs of families and of the majority of people in this country.
Labour’s proposals on paternity leave are just one part of a package of measures to help families.
Ed Miliband again
“When children get a little older, we want to help meet demand for childcare by tackling the crazy situation of Sure Start Children’s Centres lying half-empty under this government. We’re going put the lights back on, bring the kids back in and save the Sure Start programme for the next generation.
“This measure, along with the extension of free childcare and the guarantee of wrap around care through primary schools, are key parts of our plan for a better future for families.
“We want to build a Britain where prosperity reaches the kitchen table by tackling the cost of living crisis.
“We want to build a Britain where young people get the chance to get on– not a Britain which works only for a few.
“And we have a plan to help modern British families succeed so that Britain can succeed and, together, we can build a better future.”
Parties are not all the same – and the best way to test that is by looking at the patterns of their actions over long periods.
On that test – Labour certainly looks like the party of families – all families.
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