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Labour spokesperson Laura Pidcock spoke to us about what her party is promising working dads at this election
The general election is just hours, rather than days, away now.
As part of our series asking all the major parties to set out their policies for working dads and working mums we spoke to Labour’s shadow secretary of state for employment rights Laura Pidcock.
She called us from the campaign trail to share her experience as a working parent, and to talk about how it’s informed Labour’s policy offer.
Labour’s Laura Pidcock certainly understands the stresses of life as a working dad or mum.
She has to combine campaigning with being mum to a 17-month-old son.
“Being a mother has made me a better politician,” she reckons.
“Before I became an MP I managed a team which was majority female. Looking back I maybe didn’t appreciate all the juggling they did as working parents. And millions of parents do this every day.”
Her own experience informs much of Labour’s offer to parents at this election. For example her son suffered a number of ear infections leaving Pidcock and her partner facing the childcare dilemma many parents know when a child falls ill. Labour’s manifesto promises to review parents’ rights in the case of family emergencies. “This is a priority for me,” she explains. “Everyday life events happen to all sorts of parents. What sort of reserve leave could be called upon? If annual leave is supposed to be about rest and recuperation, you don’t get that if you’re looking after a poorly little one. So what would be a fair amount of reserve provision?”
The manifesto also promises increases to parental leave. Though it’s silent on reforming Shared Parental Leave.
Paid maternity leave would be extended from nine to 12 months. Would it have made more sense to retain the current length of maternity leave but use the money to hike maternity pay? “That’s a good question. What I saw was a lot of women around the nine month mark going through a sort of grieving process because they weren’t ready to go back to work. Extending the leave will relieve that psychological burden.”
Labour would double paternity leave from two to four weeks. “I didn’t plan it that way but I had my baby just before the school summer holidays so I felt really lucky that my partner [who is a teacher] could be around. I remember feeling at the end of the first two weeks that most men would be going back to work around then and it isn’t enough.”
There’s a promise to increase statutory paternity pay too, but it wouldn’t be higher than maternity pay.
Flexible working would become a day one right for everyone. For some reason this pledge appears in the ‘Women’ section of the Labour manifesto. Pidcock insists her party understands that getting men to work flexibly is important for both sexes.
And the system for requesting flexible working would be re-geared under Labour. The employer is to take on most of the responsibility for making it work. Pidcock explains, “At the moment you might put in a flexible working request and the employer can say no for a number of reasons. We want to give people the right to request flexible working along with a corresponding duty on employers to accommodate that request. That would take the burden off the employee and put it on the employer to say why it’s not reasonable to grant the request. We understand that different sectors and different sizes of employers would have different needs and definitions of what is reasonable.”
If Labour win on Thursday Laura Pidcock would be Minister for Employment Rights next week. She’d be sitting round the Cabinet table.
She reckons it’s an important sign of how Labour values the sorts of measures that could help working parents that hers would be a Cabinet level job.
Childcare doesn’t come under her remit. Labour are promising to expand free childcare to 30 hours for all kids over the age of two. That still leaves a gap for parents of one-year-olds.
Pidcock says, “It’s important to extend that provision to two-year-olds. Having those extra hours will save families around £5000 per year which is absolutely incredible.”
The party is a bit fuzzy about funding. The Tories have been criticised for bungling and under-funding the current free childcare system. “We’re trying to get this right,” adds Pidcock.
She points to the case of parents on zero hours contracts who may pay for childcare in advance only for a shift to be cancelled leaving them out of pocket.
Laura and Labour are keen to look at the bigger picture. They insist banning zero hours contracts, boosting the minimum wage and introducing sectoral collective bargaining will help all parents. The last of these would allow employees to come together to negotiate terms with employers. Within that they could insist on minimum standards on parental leave, flexible working or Shared Parental Leave.
“I deeply care that my department gets this right,” says Pidcock. “I want the Department of Employment Rights to be about being kind to working parents.
“The current system is so stringent that it doesn’t adapt to family life. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are small steps we can take that can make a big difference and signal that the state is on your side.”