Soon after the coalition government was formed David Cameron and Nick Clegg announced their intention to delay morning cabinet meetings so they could help with the school run.
Now, six months on, the deputy prime minister has outlined government plans for a “properly flexible” system of shared parental leave in the UK by 2015.
This is fine in theory but it highlights just how far removed politicians are from the reality of most people’s working lives. At a time when the government keeps emphasising its commitment to supporting small businesses battling through the global downturn, how on earth will reforms like this help?
Five years ago my husband was working on his computer in our freezing cold attic. In between jobs, he suddenly came rushing downstairs at top speed. He’d had an amazing new idea for an ingenious hi-tech system that helps to reduce leaks on the country’s water distribution networks. Not the glamour end of the market, but pretty damn smart all the same.
Three years on, that eureka moment has resulted in a fully-fledged company on the south coast with 30 employees and orders from water companies all over the world. There’s still a long way to go, but to get this far he’s had to work flat out seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. He’s missed parents’ evenings galore, cancelled holidays at short notice and hasn’t once taken our children to school.
But if he’d followed Clegg’s proposals, there’s no way his company would exist at all – let alone be employing anyone or making a major contribution to saving water.
I’m sure he’s not the only parent who’s made sacrifices. In fact he’s probably very typical of anyone who’s started or is running their own business. It’s all very well for parents working in senior roles for massive companies (or the government in fact) to demand flexible working hours so they can see more of their children. But small businesses simply don’t have the manpower to sustain employees chopping and changing their working hours all over the shop.
Nick Clegg says children often miss out on time with their dads and highlights research showing that “where fathers are involved in their children’s lives they develop better friendships, they learn to empathise, they have higher self-esteem, and they achieve better at school.” Yes, but this isn’t something you can fix through legislation or by insisting fathers get home in time to put the children to bed. Working parents simply have to make time for their children when they are at home.