Monday, January 17, 2011

Memo to Nick Clegg: Brush up on your history

Nick Clegg is absolutely one hundred percent right to want to make the parental leave arrangements more flexible, so that both parents can divide the time up in a way that suits themselves and their family. It is not right for the state to dictate that women should stay at home and look after the kids while Dad goes out to bring home the bacon. That may well be the way that most families will arrange things, but they shouldn't be compelled to.

The current situation just encourages discrimination against women of child bearing age. I know that's supposed to be illegal, but it surely happens. You just need to look at the gender imbalances at senior levels within many organisations to confirm that and the pay imbalances between men and women as well, come to think of it.

Where Nick gets it wrong is to describe the current situation as "Edwardian". As far as I know, there wasn't any paid maternity leave in those days. Women weren't even allowed to vote, so equality in the workplace was highly unlikely. If they were rich, they were constrained to a life at home, while if they were poor, they had to take all sorts of jobs to make ends meet in those pre Welfare State days.  There are times when he needs to choose his analogies with more care.

I'll forgive him that, though. The changes he wants to see are an example of liberalism in action, encouraging freedom and individual choice.  If implemented, they should also help to make the workplace a more level playing field for women.

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