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Brexit and coronavirus dominate political discourse but there’s signs that some in Westminster may speak up for working dads
With Westminster back it’s worth a little look at the politics situation for working dads.
Of course there are one or two massive issues in politics right now. And they will have implications for working dads.
The outcome of Brexit negotiations will have an economic impact. If it’s bad it’ll compound the devastation likely to be caused by coronavirus. That’ll be hard for everyone. But while it remains the case that there’s an expectation that a working dad will be the breadwinner (and obviously we’re looking to amend that expectation somewhat) it’ll bring particular challenges for men.
Coronavirus has a more direct impact on working dads. Many have had a taste of working from home forced upon them since March. Many have liked it. And many report that they will be asking for a more formal recognition of their flexible working arrangements as the immediate crisis passes. Few will want to work from home full time. But a hybrid arrangement involving some time at home and a few days in an office looks like it’ll be the norm for white collar workers at least.
The signs coming out of parliament however are not good. It’s not unreasonable to expect an administration to be in tune with the nation. But there’s been a couple of pointers this week that suggest current government don’t see workplace reform as a priority.
A petition that attracted nearly quarter of a million signatures calling for extra parental leave in light of the pandemic and the impact it’s had on parents was roundly rejected. The Petitions Committee are hacked off and chair Cat McKinnell is determined not to let the matter drop. But their power is limited.
Secondly, and more generally, there’s a clear message coming from government that folk should ‘get back to work’. That’s hugely worrying. Because it conflates only working outside the home with ‘proper work’. Most of us never stopped work through the pandemic, we just altered where we worked. And that was on official government advice to stay home.
Others that were, or remain, furloughed would love to be back at work either at home or elsewhere. But as the end of the furlough scheme draws closer they’ll be increasingly concerned about whether they’ll have work to return to. Embracing flexible work – job shares or four day weeks for example – could help save many jobs. So far the relevant department in Whitehall has expressed little interest in encouraging that sort of agility from employers.
But there are bright spots.
The last parliament introduced proxy voting. Meaning anyone off on maternity leave, or crucially paternity leave, could stay at home with their baby and get someone else to vote for them. That scheme was extended in lockdown to cover MPs who were shielding. Initially it was only a pilot scheme. But this week the committee that oversees parliamentary procedure has recommended retaining proxy voting permanently. Fingers crossed the government agrees.
More importantly perhaps than laws and procedure is example. And on that front there’s much to encourage.
Stoke MP Jonathan Gullis was taking part in an Education committee meeting last week when his newborn baby started creating. He just got on with it. He was able to cradle and soothe daughter Amelia and carry on his work. Eventually he had to nip off only to return with baby attached in a carrier on his front.
It was refreshing to see a dad demonstrating his competence at both parenting and multi-tasking. And interestingly the whole episode was written up in the Daily Mail as ‘adorable’. This is the same title that has previously run op-eds decrying dads that use papooses as lacking masculinity. Attitudes are changing.
Worth noting too that Gullis is a Tory MP. I’ve written before about how there’s a growing bank of young male MPs in the ruling Conservative party who want to be hands on parents and interested in issues like extra paternity leave. One of them is now leader of the Scottish Tories. He’ll be switching to the Edinburgh parliament next year. That’ll allow him to swap time tootling up and down the country on a train for time with his family instead.
Another MP making the same choice is Neil Gray of the SNP. Last year we spoke to him about how he missed most of the Brexit shenanigans in Westminster as he’d just added twins to his young family.
He too announced recently that he’ll stand in the Scottish elections next year, meaning he’ll have to quit Westminster. Inevitably, with a family of four very young children commuting to London takes its toll. It’s kind of sad that Westminster can’t accommodate a young dad like that but geography can’t be undone. To put a positive spin on it, he’s a working dad who realised through lockdown that he could get more work done and see more of his family if he can continue the work pattern he was forced into during the pandemic. He’s a role model to many other dads in that respect.
So it’s a mixed picture as politics gets back into full swing. The government shows little enthusiasm for future of work issues or indeed equalities more widely.
But away from Number 10 there are MPs who represent a more common experience of life for working dads. And hopefully they will speak their, and our, experiences and concerns to power.