Plans to give dads an extra four weeks paternity leave have been unveiled by Nick Clegg – but he admitted some dads could not afford to take more time off.
The Liberal Democrat leader visited a nursery in Crosspool to unveil pledges – including increasing paternity leave entitlement from two weeks to six weeks and extending free early education to two-year-olds.
Asked what was the point in extending paternity leave when not all employers would provide full pay, Mr Clegg said: “Of course I accept there is an issue with affordability and it isn’t for everybody.
“If you look at other countries where dads pick up more of the strain, take more time off, particularly to allow their partners to go back to work if women want to do that, having a ‘use it or lose it’ block is quite a good way.
“But of course I accept that money is a big issue as well.
“It’s not for everybody, and not everybody will take up that freedom – but I do think it is important it is there because I’ve been through it myself.
“I remember when Miguel was born six years ago, the rule said I could only take two weeks off when he was barely aware of my existence – what if Miriam had wanted to go back to work earlier and I’d wanted more time off?
“We had no freedom to make that decision ourselves.”
Mr Clegg took part in arts sessions and a bug hunt with youngsters at The Old School House private nursery.
He said extending free childcare to all two-year-olds would help give children the ‘best start in life’ and it would be offered to another 3,850 children in Sheffield.
Labour says in its education manifesto it would boost Sure Start children’s centres, which provide support with parenting and health matters, reduce class sizes and end the free schools programme.
In Sheffield the Labour-controlled council had to cut £3.5 million from the centres after it lost early years Government funding, leading to closures and a ‘reorganisation’.
Mr Clegg, who is defending Sheffield Hallam in May 7’s general election, said: “There are more people using Sure Start centres than ever before.
“And if you ask people around here, 16,000 children have benefited from the entitlement to 15 hours of free pre-school support, 4,000 will benefit from extending it to all two-year-olds and when they go to school families are saving £400 a child for lunch time costs which are now covered by the government.
“I’m not going to argue that councils haven’t been under a lot of pressure.
“But if you look at the direct help we’ve given to families which is going to be supplemented further when tax free childcare becomes a reality that is a lot of help which puts money back in the pockets of families.”