I thought you may like to consider an issue that doesn’t involve phone hacking but does impact on millions of families across the country – the issue of paternity pay.
One of the things that has impressed me about this government is the way in which Mr Cameron pledged to make his government the “most family friendly” in Europe. He spoke about general wellbeing being as important as economic wellbeing. I think Nick Clegg doing the school run is a great example to Dads all over the country. And yet in one very important respect I feel the government is failing badly.
I have two children and a third due in November. I work as a High School teacher and earn a decent salary – over the national average but certainly now what you would call “rich”. I understand politicians like to call us a “hard working family” and that Mr Miliband would suggest I am the “squeezed middle.” I want to be there to support my wife after she has our baby, and this support is increasingly important given that the other children need love, support, packed lunches and getting to school! My employers at my school are amazingly good to me when I need to perform parental duties but they are tied by local government paternity leave packages.
That package gives me one week – 5 days – at full pay. It then offers a second week but at a fixed lower rate of standard “SMP”. This lower rate is around £128 per week, which is very much lower than my normal weekly wage. I would, therefore, be taking a massive financial hit in order to be able to spend an extra few days with my new baby and to support my wife. I am being asked to choose between the money and my family. Unfortunately the way that the economy is, I have to choose going back to work to keep the money coming in. So within 7 days of the trauma and exhaustion of giving birth, my wife is being expected to juggle 2 kids, a new born baby and everything that comes with you. Of all all people, the one who must understand this is the Prime Minister.
However it isn’t just the lack of support for new fathers that I have a problem with. There is, in my view, a further more worrying injustice. As the rate of SMP is fixed, the more you earn the bigger the drop you will take to be at home with your family and so the greater the problem is. Don’t get me wrong – I believe rich, poor or anywhere in-between, a new father should be there for their new family member. But for the very rich taking the time off isn’t a financial worry because they are, by virtue, very rich. And for the poor paid the SMP is closer to their actual weekly income. For those people, like me, in the middle we are being priced out of spending time with our families.
It is in many ways the same as my opposition to tuition fees - fees don't affect the rich (because they are rich), don't affect the poor (because they don't pay) but do affect those of us in the middle. As usual.
If you could leave a solution in the comments that would be great - but before you are tempted into telling me I ought to be grateful for being on a teachers wage, I would ask you ... at what salary do you consider people rich?