In a plot twist worthy of featuring in Alanis Morissette's hit song Ironic, the minister responsible for shared parental leave has revealed he’s not actually allowed to take shared parental leave himself.
In an interview with Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 5 Live this week, the business minister, Andrew Griffiths – whose wife is due to give birth in mid-April – admitted that he isn’t eligible for the shared parental leave scheme.
Barnett (who is currently eight months pregnant) asked Griffiths if he was planning on taking shared parental leave. He responded, “Unfortunately, as a minister, I’m not allowed – ” to which an incredulous Barnett interjected, “WHAT?!”
Griffiths quickly tried to defuse the situation by pointing out that he is the first minister responsible for maternity and paternity leave who will take their full allocation of paternity leave. Which, while absurd, wasn’t enough to deter Barnett.
“Hang on a minute, back up a second,” she interrupted. “You’ve just come on the radio to promote shared parental leave and you’re in a job where the rules could be changed because you are the rule-makers, where you’re not allowed to take shared parental leave?”
“That’s right,” Griffiths stated, proving that the absurdity of British politics knows no bounds.
“How can you say that without laughing?” asked Barnett, herself audibly giggling.
When pushed by Barnett to explain why he isn’t trying to change the system for MPs, he said: “I have to admit to you it’s not even something I had thought about. It’s not my priority.”
Honestly, how could this be something that the official spokesperson for shared parental leave has not even thought about? And how are we meant to take this guy seriously? Especially considering that Griffiths’ appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live was part of a £1.5m information campaign that has been launched, specifically, to raise awareness about the policy.
Shared parental leave was established with all the best intentions, but its low take-up rate reveals one of the most frustrating truths about gender equality: passing progressive legislation is only half the battle
These comments point to a wider problem. Firstly, not enough people are signing up for the scheme. This week, the Department for Business revealed that the take-up rate among the 300,000 couples who are eligible for shared parental leave “could be as low as 2 per cent”. If today’s papers are anything to go by, one of the main reasons behind this is that men recognise the exhausting and monotonous nature of caring for a newborn and, quite simply, would rather slip on their suits, run out of the door and tackle their overflowing inbox than deal with their own child’s overflowing nappy. In this morning’s Times, Robert Crampton invokes a Frasier reference to sum up the experience he had caring for his young children: “This is boring, and yet difficult.”
But, for every couple who chooses not to take advantage of the scheme, there is another eligible couple who simply has no idea it even exists. How can shared parental leave be successful if more than half of the public are completely unaware the option exists, despite it being in place for almost three years?
Shared parental leave was established with all the best intentions, but its low take-up rate reveals one of the most frustrating truths about gender equality: passing progressive legislation is only half the battle. The other, more complicated, half requires men to actually take some of the burden of childcare on themselves. And, at the moment, that seems like a harder battle to win.