Are our paid parental leave provisions adequate? NZ Herald Online

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Jun 30, 2011 No Comments ›› Jacinda Ardern

There are many things we should envy the Swedish for. ABBA probably isn’t one of them, but their paid parental leave provisions certainly are. Let me explain…

A while ago, I visited Auckland University as Labour’s spokesperson on Youth Justice issues. There were a team of researchers there who had spent some time looking at the factors that influence the kind of start that children have in life.

That was the first time I had heard it so starkly put – the first 6 months of a child’s life, based on research and evidence, are the most important bar none. If we don’t invest enough in them at the very beginning of their lives, it can take a good four years to reverse the damage. And if we still haven’t got it right by then, we’ll either be playing catch up the rest of their adolescence, or worse still, it will come at a cost to us all if they eventually end up in the arena that I was working in; the criminal justice system.

Of course, that’s not to say that every child that isn’t given the love and care it needs when it is first born will end up a delinquent, but it’s a solid enough indicator that we should be investing our energy into ensuring that at the very least, we’re giving parents choices, and helping them to be with their newborn as much as they can in those early months.

And that’s where the Swedes come in, with their enviable 16 months of paid parental leave.

Comparatively, we’re a little way off. Currently in New Zealand, paid parental leave is available for 14 weeks at a maximum rate (as of July) of $458. Compare that to our neighbours across the ditch: Australia’s relatively new paid parental leave system gives mothers 18 weeks at a maximum of $732 (NZD) per week, and it’s easy to see that it’s yet another area where we’re lagging behind. But this isn’t just about competing with the Aussies, it’s about investing in the things that will make the biggest difference for children in the long run.

But while we’re here, it would be remiss not to mention the other areas that we desperately need to improve, including flexible working provisions to allow parents to better manage the competing demands of home and family. We do a lot of talking in this area and not a lot of doing. If we’re truly going to assist our parents, especially mums, to re-enter the workforce after they have had children, this would be a huge step in the right direction.

We’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about policy in this area. When we went into opposition, we left some unfinished business. Working for families, for instance, did make a difference in lifting children out of poverty- but not enough of one. That’s why Annette King has spent the past couple of years getting a team of experts in the field of children and child development together to talk about where we need to go from here and how we give families more support and New Zealand kids a better start. The result is a comprehensive package and extending paid parental leave plays a big part.

But why wait for an election to campaign for change in this area, when it’s so obvious that a need exists now? I guess that would be the challenge I would extend to Government. There’s no reason that they cannot at least chart their intention to extend paid parental leave incrementally. That’s what we have done. Labour has been very clear that extending paid parental is a priority for us, and that along with our full policy on children, we’ll be clear how it will be paid for, and what we will reprioritise to get it done.

Besides, if we’re going to beat the Aussies (or eventually even the Swedes) at something, I can’t think of anything better than this.


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