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15 October 2013

Cruddas’s plan to give fathers paid leave for antenatal classes deserves support

Rather than dismissing the idea as another burden on business, Conservatives should recognise it as an attempt to strengthen the family.

By George Eaton

One of the main aims of Labour’s policy review is to address issues that have long been neglected by both of the main parties: the lack of housebuilding, the mental health crisis and the prohibitive cost of social care. Another example is the disproportionate burden borne by women in family life.

In his speech to Civitas last night, Jon Cruddas, the party’s policy review co-ordinator, noted: “More and more women are taking on the role of breadwinner. Families thrive when there is a partnership and teamwork amongst adult relations. But there is a deep feeling of unfairness amongst women at the burden they have to shoulder. Too many have a triple shift of paid work, looking after the children and caring for an older relative.”

He added: “Amongst men there is the sense of being excluded from domestic life. We need a new conversation about families and their relationships  that is jointly owned by women and men.

“We need to value father’s family role as highly as his working role, and women’s working role as highly as her domestic one.”

With this aim in mind, one idea he floated was the introduction of paid leave for prospective fathers to attend “antenatal sessions and hospital appointments during pregnancy”. This, he said, was an example of how Labour would make greater use of a “‘whole family’ approach to public services which assumes, where it is safe and appropriate, that a child needs a relationship with both parents.”

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I expect some on the libertarian wing of the Conservatives will charge Cruddas with seeking to further burden businesses, but others in the party will rightly recognise it as an attempt to support the institution they revere most: the family. While the Tories plan to waste £600m on a symbolic tax break for marriage, Labour is advancing policies that would make a genuine difference to people’s lives.

Cruddas’s “Blue Labour” agenda is an attempt to re-engage the small-c conservative voters who deserted Labour between 1997 and 2010 and, in many cases, stopped voting at all. He said: “They care about their families and work hard for a better life. The ethic of work is deeply held because it is about self-respect and self-reliance. They are responsible and look after their neighbourhoods. But they don’t feel they get back what they deserve. Labour should be their natural home. But in May 2010 they didn’t think that we understood their lives. They turned their backs on us and we suffered one of our worst ever defeats. That means necessary reflection within our policy review.”

It is a strategic repositioning that the Conservatives should be wary of dismissing.