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Heidi Cooke, London, UK
"I want to keep my career"
 real 28k

Andre Peillex, Nantes, France
"Will pay rich dividends"
 real 28k

Kathy Willsea, Illinois, USA
"Care for your co-workers' kids"
 real 28k

Steve Dixey, Cleethorpes, UK
"It is the quality of time that counts"
 real 28k

Andy Millward, Broxbourne, UK
"Why should paternity leave be a restriction?"
 real 28k

Tom Beardshaw, Cardiff, Wales
"Children are the future workforce"
 real 28k

Monday, 18 December, 2000, 14:15 GMT
Parents: Too much special treatment?

In the developed world, more and more countries are adopting flexible working arrangements for parents.

The British government is proposing the introduction of state-paid paternity leave. The Finnish prime minister, who himself took a parental break twice, recently proposed giving new fathers an extra month of paid leave.

British industry says the proposals would be too costly. Employers fear a decrease in competitiveness. Childless workers mutter about having to pick up the slack.

Does it make economic sense to help families? Or does the rest of the workforce have to pick up the pieces? And would measures like these be appropriate in the developing world?

This was the subject of "Talking Point On Air" on December 10, 2000.

This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.

Select the link below to watch Talking Point On Air

  • Your comments since the programme
  • Your comments during the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    Your comments since the programme

    Paid paternity leave? About time! This is a brilliant step forward for fathers and families. New Dads need to be with their fathers after the birth. The benefits for the health of mothers and children are well established in research - new mums need the support of their partners, especially with the high levels of caesarean births. Post natal depression rates are lower if fathers are closely involved and breastfeeding is more successful. Crucially, the first two weeks is when Health visitors train new parents at home. If fathers are at work, they miss out and their children suffer. Well done Stephen Byers!
    Tom Beardshaw, Wales

    I find the comments put forward here incredibly selfish and a perfect example of the 'yob' culture

    Mark, Bristol, UK
    I find the comments put forward here incredibly selfish and a perfect example of the 'yob' culture that some of you suggest is a result of staying home raising children. Maybe your parents stayed home to look after you? Now look at you. If they didn't, then maybe they should have. What this 'sounding board' has raised is the level of individual selfishness out there. Far more worrying than the immediate gain/loss of a few pounds investing in the future.
    Mark, Bristol, UK

    Families are an integral part of the economy both as consumers and as units of production - the produce future workers and wealth creators. Families contribute to the future economy by providing and supporting children who will become the future creators of wealth which support us while we are on pensions.
    Mark Howson, Sheffield, UK

    Alison in Cambridge needs look no further than the 1 million unemployed to find the labour supply for the future. The population of this country far exceeds the resources it needs to survive and is likely to stay that way. At least those who remain childfree are not producing more consumers.
    Mike, England

    I am recently married, although I do not intend on having children in the near future. Myself and my new husband both work full time and long hours and still we struggle. I would not consider bringing a child into the world without knowing full well we could afford to afford to do so. I am not a child hater, I have young nephews and nieces, but I do believe that all the help the Government gives to 'families' can be spent so helping the whole community and not a few.
    Tanya, England

    I am heartily sick of hearing the CBI continually whinge about extra burdens on British industry. Everyone knows, especially General Motors, that British workers are the easiest and cheapest to dispense of in Europe. If German management can perform efficiently in their internal market it does not say much about our management, represented by the CBI.
    Terry Churchill, UK

    "Breeding to supply an increasing pool of workers to supply those who have retired" (Keith Walker) sounds like a pyramid selling scheme to me, and we all know what the eventual outcome of those schemes are for the majority of participants!
    Sue C, Australia

    Oh, how morally superior many of those without children are. I bet some of them, having made nice careers for themselves, will decide to have children in their thirties and beyond with ageing eggs and then demand IVF treatment on the NHS because they can't conceive! It's funny how the world turns.
    Steve, UK

    Who on earth do you think are going to be tomorrow's earners and consumers?

    Fred, UK
    To the anti children party. Who on earth do you think are going to be tomorrow's earners and consumers? Like a significant proportion of families with very young children my wife does not work because we believe it is the responsible thing to do. Like most people in a decent job I do not get any state benefits. Why should we be far worse off financially so that you have customers in the future?
    Fred, UK

    Funny how most of those who invoke "the greater good of society" usually stress their own rights and other people's (always other people's) responsibilities.
    Henry Case, UK

    I'm furious at some of these comments. I've worked hard for the last 12 years covering for other people, on many occasions working through the night on shifts of up to 36 hours. I've done that already. I've recently given birth to my own child. Now it's my turn, it would be nice to receive some understanding and help for MY family. Employers have up to 6 months notice of the situation! If they can't plan that far in advance, they really shouldn't be in business.
    Julie, UK

    The vast majority of families do not need the extra tax benefits

    Phil, London,England
    As a single person I do wonder whether the extra taxes we have to pay to subsidise those with children just seems to end up in the pockets of designer sportswear manufacturers, fast food chains, mobile phone shops etc. and very little ends up in the pockets of the real needy families. The vast majority of families do not need the extra tax benefits etc. this Government has given them. Most families could fund paternity leave themselves perhaps it may mean foregoing purchaing some electrical gadgets or one less holiday but then surely having a family is about making some sacrifices for your family and in most cases very small sacrifices liking using your annual leave for paternity leave.
    Phil, London,England

    Those parents in previous submissions who assume their offspring are going to grow up to contribute to society and our pensions - nothing is certain in this life. It's not just the children of drug addicts who go around in a "moral vacuum'" with the sole intention of joining the University of Crime when they grow up.
    Janet, Scotland

    The world has more than enough people, and the UK has a fairly high population density. We certainly are not in need of a larger population, and we certainly should not be paying for people to indulge themselves in having children. The money could be far better spent on educating those who have been born. Breeding to supply an increasing pool of workers to supply those who have retired is a short-term policy which will just maximise the overpopulation problem we eventually have to face.
    Keith Walker, UK

    All these new parental rights should do wonders for the employment prospects of gays and lesbians!
    Adam, Manchester, UK

    I think that each case has to be judged on its merits

    Aziz Gaibie, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
    I think that each case has to be judged on its merits. We simply can't expect governments to assist working parents because they've decided to have a child, otherwise this could be open to abuse. I'm single, but I certainly wouldn't want to bring a child into this world knowing that financially I wouldn't be able to take care of it.
    Aziz Gaibie, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

    The 6 billion-world population is irrelevant - unless you plan on importing Third World 'slaves' to look after you in your old age. Now that would be progression, wouldn't it???
    Alison, Cambridge, UK

    "Selfish, lifestyle choice, resent paying for, burden, freeloaders, discrimination, parasites ..." I assume the readers using these derisive terms for parents also use them to describe their own parents and their own previous existence as a child. Your parents made a lifestyle choice to burden the tax system and global ecology when they raised you. This obviously implies you hate your own existence as a parasite on the world.
    Dave, UK

    As a working parent I enjoy flexible arrangements with my employer, and provide an excellent return in terms of my contribution to the company. I attribute this largely to the added maturity that being a parent brings. I also know many single people resentful of high taxes and concessions to parents. Frankly their chief skill is whinging, and they tend to value their contribution by how long they spend at work.
    Nick Singleton, Poole, England

    It's a competitive world

    Tim Lin, Hong Kong
    I run a small internet business in Hong Kong. If there was a government directive that I had to give my employees time off and pay for pregnancies, I'm afraid I would have to discriminate against candidates that were recently married or thinking of having children. It's a competitive world.
    Tim Lin, Hong Kong

    I am amazed at the vitriol on both sides of the argument. Yes, I am in favour of more paternity leave - your partner does need the support in a baby's early days. However people should also be entitled to leave to look after elderly relatives. My experience is that most people with children do try to make up for any time they take off by working additional hours at a later date, working at home and providing cover for others when they need some time off. Those who talk about "team spirit" are quite right. We are all entitled to some consideration and support from others but we need to return the favours as well.
    John Rogers, York, England

    Surely, the decision to have children is a lifestyle choice, and as such, measures should be taken by parents to ensure that they can cope financially, emotionally and have the time necessary for this choice.
    Andy Regan de Bere, Plymouth, UK

    Your comments during the programme

    If paternity leave is granted to all EU citizens the result is that children get a good start in life and that is a benefit for all. As most people become parents the level of time spent off is comparable per employee, so no business is significantly disadvantaged. The uncompetitiveness issue only comes into play in the minority of cases so ignore it, it isn't significant.
    Gavin Pearson, Detroit, USA

    Why all the fuss and jealousy?

    John Scott, Nottingham
    Why all the fuss and jealousy? At the end of the day these benefits are paid for the child. Every child gets equal treatment and when they grow up they will repay these benefits in taxes. Look on it as a long-term loan for the child and there is surely no problem.
    John Scott, Nottingham

    If an individual or couple are to have paid maternity leave (I have nothing against that), then those who do not have children should be granted equal paid leave to pursue whatever goal they choose. In the vast majority of cases in the West these days, having a child is a matter of choice and lifestyle. With some exceptions, women are now free to have children or not, thank goodness. For those who choose to be parents - fine. But being a parent should not be privileged over other choices, and those who choose not to make it should not be penalised.
    Graham, Cardiff, UK

    I think free contraception would be a more efficient use of resources.
    Navigator, Cincinnati, USA

    When my children were born I received no paid parental leave as a father and accepted it However, I am stunned by the bitterness and resentment of some of these messages. When you are old and infirm will you still view the younger generation of nurses etc who care for you as the children of "parasites"? Calm down and get a life all of you.
    Robin, Hitchin, UK

    The anti-child brigade are assuming that women want to do nothing but sit at home producing kids like battery hens and that's totally untrue. The other side to the debate is that I'm losing some rather lucrative freelance work because a colleague is coming back from maternity leave next month - as I was earning extra money for this cover, I didn't object in the slightest. It's when you're expected to cover for nothing that causes the resentment.
    Henry, London, UK

    When I have to take time off if my daughter is sick, no one does my work for me

    Katie, Surrey, England
    I'm fascinated by all those who seem to think that they end up covering colleagues' work when they have to take time off to look after children. When I have to take time off if my daughter is sick, no one does my work for me - I just work longer and harder another day!!
    Katie, Surrey, England

    It is unfair to discriminate against people totally from a economic point of view, but do both parents needs to work? Surely the best solution (for the child) is to have one parent at home full time. Doubtless, many working families will complain about this, saying they both need to work, but how much of the money they earn is used for 'necessities'? We must have two weeks away, we will die if we don't have our DVD players, if we don't have a widescreen TV we are obviously paupers.
    Pete, MK, England

    Providing families and individuals with more help to raise their children should not be looked at from an "economic" angle. Society as a whole must realise that investing resources in brining up children is a common project that must be shared by all the important institutional actors as well as civil society. This responsibility should not be phrased in terms of how much money it costs us to guarantee that families and individuals can use more of their time to educate their offspring, but in fact the question should be: what is the human cost for society of not releasing enough financial and human resources to care for its children?
    Luis Amorim Portuguese living in Belgium

    Two weeks here or there is surely irrelevant. It will do little for children and only cause resentment in the workplace. What is needed is an end to the "long hours" culture. Let's promote flexible working. Let's promote teleworking to cut down on travel time. Nobody should spend their whole life working, travelling to work or thinking about work.
    Helen Ward, Oxford, England

    Here in America, we don't even have paid maternity leave. We seem to pride ourselves on our "individualism" - a seeming insistence to stand on our own feet. The funny thing is that even if you reduce this debate down to the most selfish, "me-first" interest, all of us have a stake in children. Today's children are the people who will be taking care of us when we're old. They will be deciding the policy for the vulnerable young and old. Paid parental leave is a necessity if we wish to set a generous example for them and show that we value them.
    Rachel, Olympia, USA

    Your comments before we went ON AIR

    Why is society being so sexist?

    Craig Cockburn, Edinburgh, Scotland
    Why is society being so sexist? Once the baby has been born and the mother has recovered from the birth, then the responsibility of parenthood should be a shared and equal one and a matter for the couple to determine between themselves. Abolish maternal and parental leave after the birth and replace it with a common "parental" leave for the couple to apportion between themselves as they see fit. Men can make just as good fathers as women make mothers.
    Craig Cockburn, Edinburgh, Scotland

    Yeah sure, go for it. It's already taken for granted that I'll work every holiday, every weekend and cancel my plans whenever there's a need for unpaid overtime. After all, I don't have children so why should I be entitled to spare time? Believe it or not, I would like to spend time with my wife, my pets, my friends. Before you choose to have children as well as a career, consider how you will raise them. Stop taking it for granted that your childless colleagues will do your job for you.
    Andrew Smith, Glasgow

    As an ex-pat Brit I am quite appalled at the negative attitude that family leave is receiving. The bottom line is that people who do not "wish to pay" belong to a growing part of society who are essentially selfish and who have no social conscience about others. The need for children is obvious because of course who is going to be the working population paying for the aged when we are old? The alternative is of course the UK lowering their immigration restrictions which I cannot imagine would be too popular. A two week paid family leave break is not going to kill the country and will help thousands of new families just when they need it.
    Peter, Sydney, Australia

    If you do not work, you do not deserve to be paid

    Katherine Jinkerson, Oakdale, Ct, USA
    What ever happened to the idea of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay? If you do not work, you do not deserve to be paid. What makes people think that having children means they DESERVE to be paid just to raise them? Contribute to your country's economy before asking it to contribute to your pocketbook.
    Katherine Jinkerson, Oakdale, Ct, USA

    The few good caring and well-thinking parents should be granted a bit of time off because they are something of an exception these days. It wouldn't be that much of a strain on society to give them extra leave. It is obvious that parents, especially in big cities, nowadays think society should take care of their offspring as early as possible. Most parents can't wait to get rid of their kids out of selfishness, and have them taken care of by teachers at the age of three because a child allegedly needs to learn how to socialise.
    Peillex André, Nantes, France

    Here in Austria the state pays for up to 2 years maternity leave that can be split between the parents. Is British industry really so hard up that it can't afford 2 weeks paternity leave? But as Vernon Bigg points out, we shouldn't encourage "people to breed" since this is obviously a source of costs. Maybe we should outsource breeding? Or get those Scottish researchers to grow babies on farms at a lower unit cost? Stop nodding Vernon, that was sarcasm!
    Mark, Vienna, Austria

    It's important to recognise the needs of employees of various stages in life

    Betty, Maidstone, UK
    Being moderate and progressive are the foundations to any programs. As a young professional (not married and without kids), I believe that it's important to recognise the needs of employees of various stages in life. That will also help build your employees' retention in a world where there is a race for talent. The question is, where the balance is and how are we going to involve all key stakeholders adequately to ensure that everyone is on board of this idea?
    Betty, Maidstone, UK

    Paid paternity leave is an excellent idea. This will make it easier for men to play a more active role in helping their partner take care of their child, especially at a time when their partner needs that help the most. There are other benefits to such a system. For example, many managers secretly resent their female staff taking maternity leave. This affects the career prospects female workers. With the introduction of paterntity leave, there will be a more level playing field. Managers will be forced to consider the parental responsibilities of both father and mother, when planning and managing projects.
    Kesh Tharmalingam, London, UK

    I would have no quibble at all with the government bending over backwards yet again to force employers to add to the rampant pro-natalism and promotion of parenthood at any cost that we already experience in this country, if only other commitments were given equal recognition by employers as being as worthy as childcare for tax benefits and needing time away from employment, be that five minutes or five months.
    Jacquelyn Arnold, London, UK

    Flexible working should be available for all, not just parents. However why have we become a country who begrudges a benefit to certain groups if we do not have it ourselves. If people were less selfish in the workplace and were willing to look at the benefit of the whole team, the whole team would benefit. I am not a parent but do not have a problem with covering for a colleague on the understanding that they would also help me when necessary.
    Eileen, UK

    Time to break down barriers between "employer's time" and "family time." The two are not mutually incompatible, so long as the right results are achieved for the employer. It could be that paid paternity leave enables tasks to be completed from home. We can all communicate by phone, and usually by Internet. If business can be conducted remotely, why should paternity leave be a restriction?
    Andy Millward, Broxbourne, UK

    It is important that the first weeks / months of a child's life benefit from maximum parental care. The answer is that parents - both parents - should factor this in to their financial and lifestyle plans when they decide have a child. What they should not do is expect the rest of the workforce to subsidise them through taxes and work longer hours to cover their absences. You make your bed, you lie in it.
    W Monk, London, England

    I believe we should have a system such as China's; you get all the benefits going for your first child, but any further children count against you. At least that might start cutting down on the over-population of this little island.
    Steve, Southampton, UK

    It is amazing that a straight man, or woman, through choice of having children can have the rest of their work colleagues put under extra pressure to cover for them. It is not only unfair, but assumed you have no other life than to support theirs. As a gay man I get none of these "social" benefits, I am just considered to either be always available to cover when the next snuffling nose appears, or, if I dare to have any plans already made, a social misfit.
    Alex, Stoke On Trent

    If you dropped the resentment and stopped worrying in case someone else is getting a bigger slice of the pie than you, you'd be a lot happier

    Mo, Belfast, Northern Ireland
    As usual, this debate has given a forum to a bunch of sad whingers who think that a ready sprinkling of the words 'parasite' and 'breed' will demean parenthood and make their points seem valid. Get on with your lives, people - if you dropped the resentment and stopped worrying in case someone else is getting a bigger slice of the pie than you, you'd be a lot happier. And then you'd stop whingeing, so the rest of us would be a lot happier too.
    Mo, Belfast, Northern Ireland

    Jennifer suggested that perhaps older people could be employed instead of those of child-bearing age. Old bodies, however, are more prone to illness and the subsequent sick leave is also very expensive for the economy. To use the phraseology of some of the earlier contributors, this makes older people 'parasites' too. The only answer is to employ robots who won't waste valuable working time through reproduction, illness or even meal breaks.
    Missie, Belfast, N Ireland

    It is just plain selfish to expect others to pay for your lifestyle. Nobody pays for my lifestyle and I wouldn't expect them to! What really gets my goat is those people with kids who claim to be doing a philanthropic service for the future. Rubbish! If you really felt that way you would be looking at ways to de-populate the planet not over populate it. And I would much prefer my tax money to go on my pension - not on your kids.
    A Wood, UK

    Paternal leave can be nothing other than a good thing. Not having a father around during the formative years must be as bad as having a broken family, and probably accounts for many of the "problems" of today's youth. I would gladly take over responsibilities to allow someone to spend time with their family, and when I eventually have one I hope someone else would feel the same way too.
    Stuart Noble, London, England

    Those who either choose not to over-populate the planet, or cannot have children are being discriminated against on an increasing basis. This applies to parental leave and taxation, in addition to the perceived place in society. Having children is a special responsibility, but it is a matter of choice. Why should parents benefit disproportionately for choosing to have children?
    G McIntyre, Marlborough, England

    I don't understand this. Unlike many developing countries, Britain's population is fairly stable, but there are too few being born to provide the workforce when increasing numbers retire. Should both parents work or not? Do we want more people in the workforce, or fewer? It's pointless having a personal pension if there are no companies left for it to invest in.
    Clive Mitchell, Cardiff, UK

    What has happened to the team spirit? Over the years I have 'covered' for colleges who are on long term sick leave or extended holidays, others who have transport problems hence never make it into the office before 9:30. I may have grumbled at times but I have never resented it. In return they have covered when I have had to take the children to the doctors. If my children are sick I work at home.
    Caron, England

    Why should someone who chooses to have a child get an extra two weeks' holiday? Why shouldn't I get the same? Once again it's special treatment for parents and the rest of us have to pick up the burden. Also, I am not child-less, I am child-free. Don't imply that I am somehow worth less because I don't burden this over-populated planet with yet more mouths.
    Stephen Cooke, Birmingham, England

    Concessions for parents are quite good enough already

    Mark B, Reading, England
    I think concessions for parents are quite good enough already. If people want to have children, they should take the responsibility for their decision. Why should fellow employees endure a heavier workload due to a colleague's family life when most people are stretched at work already? If parents are not happy with existing arrangements, I have a suggestion: Don't breed!
    Mark B, Reading, England

    Children are our future and any measure which supports their well being should be a worthwhile one. However, I do worry that a youngish single person will be faced with supporting/contributing to a growing pensioner population whilst also dealing with a depleted workforce when fathers make use of the extra holiday. Will someone who has nothing to do with their child be entitled to this extra month off?
    Rob, England

    What percentage of the workforce have children, grandchildren or are planning to have children? I would suggest its the majority. Hence these changes should directly or indirectly benefit the majority of the workforce. The next step would be to encourage companies to use temps to cover for the absent staff.
    C Holmes, England

    Policies which provide support to parents but not to carers of older dependents are ageist. Why, when the ecosystem is crumbling under the weight of too many humans, do governments want to make it easier to produce yet more people? In Tony Blair's case it couldn't possibly be anything to do with his own family circumstances, surely?
    Lynne Winterbourne, Newmarket, England

    We can and should afford to support those providing the next generation to encourage them to be productive, positive and good citizens of the country

    Kit Lane, Aberystwyth, Dyfed
    This looks very similar to the arguments used against the minimum wage - which has according to virtually all commentators been a success. The UK is not a poor country - we can and should afford to support those providing the next generation to encourage them to be productive, positive and good citizens of the country. It's an investment in the future.
    Kit Lane, Aberystwyth, Dyfed

    Having children is not a "lifestyle choice", equivalent to a hobby - it carries with it legal duties to care for children, and parents get blamed if children aren't looked after properly. These measures will enable parents to meet those legal duties better, and businesses will benefit in the long run - children are the future workforce.
    Tom Beardshaw, Cardiff, Wales

    As a union rep I find that the people who most resent the increases in family leave entitlements are those with responsibilities for elderly or other non-child dependents who don't find their boss so sympathetic to their needs. With an aging population and a falling birth rate maybe we should be encouraging the employers and Government to look at other areas of family responsibilities
    George, UK

    Without children being born and developing into adults, business would have no future workers (or indeed consumers). As this may directly affect profits is there anything to debate. Also those workers complaining about picking up the extra work should remember that their parents will have taken time out to look after them as whining children.
    Ian Bailey, England

    If I ran a small business, I doubt I could afford to pay employees not to work for months on end

    Henry Case, Oxford, UK
    The simple fact is that most people nowadays have to work, and most people have children; so maybe there should be a certain amount of cushioning. But if I ran a small business, I doubt I could afford to pay employees not to work for months on end and at the same time pay extra people to cover their absence. It would make me very careful about who I chose to employ.
    Henry Case, Oxford, UK

    This proposal is unfair to people without children, as is the conservative proposal to reinstate tax advantages for getting married. Why should I get less leave and pay more tax because I have chosen not to get married or have children. Is this proposal being made because Tony Blair is a relatively new father and he wants a bit more time off?
    Peter, England

    I think it's fairly sad and indicative of this society that nearly everyone above is prepared to put money before life. Surely that's what's wrong with society in the world. Money always seems to come before life. If everybody made a lifestyle choice not to have children, how would the human race continue?
    Leon Noble, Dundee, Scotland

    What a very sad bunch you parent and child haters are!

    Ann Gray, Lancaster, England
    What a very sad bunch you parent and child haters are! What is going to happen to society if there are no children to work to fund the health and social services you will rely on when you are elderly? Your private pensions and health insurance will keep you in your old age? Let's hope so for your sake!
    Ann Gray, Lancaster, England

    If we produce less, someone has to consume or invest less. This is not a free lunch. It is a transfer from those without children to those who have them. This is neither efficient nor fair. Children are most precious to their own parents - so why should the childless bear the cost of their upbringing?
    Ben Broadbent, England

    I can't believe how selfish some of the comments posted are! Research has shown how the years before five are crucial in a child's development. I plan to be a stay home mother as long as we can manage it financially. I will encourage my husband to take any paternity leave available!
    Kelly Turner, Burlington, Canada

    Now I know why they call it the Nanny State. Personal responsibility for personal decisions seems to be a doomed concept in the 21st Century. Want to have a family, keep a job and "do it all"? Good on you. Just please don't expect the rest of society to raise your children.
    Peter C. Kohler, Washington, D.C. USA

    Children are the future of the country and the first year is the most vital

    Anthony Segadelli, Hong Kong
    Blair is correct in arranging time off for fathers. Children are the future of the country and the first year is the most vital. Brits (of which I am one) should stop being so selfish and anti-children. In the long term for society to survive and fend for itself, children are required.
    Anthony Segadelli, Hong Kong

    As a higher rate taxpayer who is infertile I strongly resent paying for other people's children in taxes. To have parents given even more rights galls those of us who either cannot or choose not to have children. Why should we subsidise those who make a decision to become parents ??
    Paul, Aldershot, Englannd

    As a committed non-breeder, I am continually outraged by the special treatment given to those who are selfish enough to burden the planet with more humans. It seems bizarre to me that those who create the biggest drains on resources should be rewarded with -- yet more of those resources!!
    Alex, Glasgow, Scotland

    Even if you don't have children, you'll need someone around to pay your pension when you retire. And before you say 'ah-ha!, but I've got a pension fund!', it won't be any good unless someone's working to make goods to spend it on.
    Matthew Rodgerson, Birmingham, England

    Considering the world population now exceeds 6 billion, just how exactly does that make those who choose not to have children selfish? I have made sure that I can afford my retirement. Having children to look after you in your old age is a poor excuse. Breeding should not be rewarded.
    S Fowler, Newbury, UK

    My children will be paying towards all you childless people's pensions in years to come. You won't be whining then will you? Get a life, we all have responsibilities in one form or another, and I don't crib when you take time off to get the central heating fixed or are expecting a delivery.
    Simon, England

    Surprised that the government have been so restrained - why not go the whole way and back date it for everyone! Seriously as a parent of three young children I agree that this is an important time - important enough to take some of your existing leave entitlement.
    Charles Afford, Northampton

    I'd like to see more support for working parents

    Paul Stanyer, Milton Keynes, England
    For selfish reasons, I'd like to see more support for working parents. With a falling population, we old survivors need someone lower down the food chain to pay pension contributions, and keep the economy smiling after we retire.
    Paul Stanyer, Milton Keynes, England

    Generally speaking I am in agreement with the proposals but would like to make the following points. 1) Sure children are a lifestyle choice but so is smoking. Nearly three working weeks is lost per smoking employee when they're outside in the "sin bin". 2) The arguments about parents being freeloaders seems to assume all parents are going to take all entitlements in full all of the time. I have three children and never needed any special attention. My work place has some degree of flexitime and gives paternity leave and that's been OK for me. But if one of them was ever hit by a car I would hope that they would also understand my reasons for wanting to be at the hospital a lot of the time? 3) Children are any country's future. Try reading "The Children of Men" as one possible scenario of a childless future! 4) Some of the attitudes about children above have been shocking. "Parasitic"? It's little wonder abuse is rife in our society.
    Leigh Bowden, UK

    Please stop forcing me to pay for your expensive private hobby via the tax system. We are already way overpopulated, and I don't think there needs to be any further incentives to add to the problem!
    Scott, Laurel, MD USA

    It is up to all adults, both parents directly responsible for children and childless adults to share the burden of bringing up the future workforce, on whom we shall all rely to care for us when we are old. Raising children is exhausting and expensive as well as great fun. Future pension payments to those currently working will rely on an active and successful future workforce. For this reason those without children who complain about the extra burden imposed by their fellow workers who do have children should consider their own long-term prosperity, rather than just short-term comfort.
    Greg Englefield, London

    Fairness works both ways

    Keith, London
    Paternity leave I have no problem with. The more fundamental issue is the expectation placed on those of us without children to cover when parents have to leave early to pick up children or school commitments or they absolutely have to have their holidays at a certain time leaving the rest of us to hold the fort. Fairness works both ways.
    Keith, London

    During the 20th century, political, social and technological changes have enabled large sections of the population to choose to remain childless. The childless have a larger disposable income, than those with families (less mouths to feed, ability to dedicate more time and energy to their careers etc).The relative affluence of the childless has increased costs, particularly housing, to a level whereby people with children are finding it harder to manage. It is the families with children that are the financial losers in today's more heterogeneous society
    Philip, Bromley

    Why is there so much garbage spouted by both sides of this argument? No, whingers, your children will not pay my pension; I will provide for myself - there won't be a state pension when I am 65. No to you too, selfish people; they may not pay for your pension, but who do you think is going to empty your bins, serve you in restaurants and drive your local bus?
    A J Davies, Herts, UK

    Oh my... it looks like we've found us yet "another class" of productive, responsible citizen's we can strip of their dignity while questioning their worth, in a society that is being manipulated by globalized corporate rule.
    Lady Liberty,US

    All the unpopular shifts have to be filled by those with no children

    Mark F, Sheffield
    Of course the work place should be as flexible for parents as it can be, but this shouldn't be at the expense of others in the workplace, many of whom are not parents. For example, parents will suddenly phone in and say a child's sick, can't make it in to work or something similar and "magically" their workload is put onto the shoulders of remaining staff, great. Another good one is shift work, parents go to the boss and say things like "I must have Christmas off", or "I must work mornings only this week" etc. Meanwhile, all the unpopular shifts have to be filled by those with no children, like we don't have a life. In a nutshell, you've got kids, so that's MY problem??
    Mark F, Sheffield

    I think having family leave is terrific, and necessary in today's world. However, as a single working person I want it to be family leave not leave designed specifically for parents. If I need to become a caretaker of one of my parents I would hope that I would qualify for family leave. To often it seems as if privileges are extended to parents simply because they are parents. I don't know if I am bitter, but it is an awfully large pill to swallow when you have worked 60 hours weeks and the parent in the next office works 35 and gets paid the same as you, and you both are just as likely to be promoted.
    Emma, Kansas, US

    All those who are ranting on about children being our "future" are so blinkered it is untrue. The world's population is over 6 billion so there is no shortage of human beings to secure the future of the race. As for employers being "useless" for not being able to afford to pay someone for two weeks for being at home changing nappies, if a new dad can't afford to take two weeks off work unpaid the he obviously can't afford to have kids! Having children is a CHOICE, it is not a necessity any more. We should be slowing down the rate at which we procreate and if financial restrictions are the only answer then SO BE IT.
    Karen, Birmingham, England

    I am appalled by the comments that these children will pay for my pension in the future. What am I paying taxes and NI for now then? I have nothing against people getting extra benefits for having children but it should be limited to a maximum of two. This country is already over-crowded enough.
    Tony, UK

    Why don't employers re-employ all those aged 50

    Jennifer, Solihull, England
    Here's a thought: why don't employers re-employ all those aged 50 and over who were "downsized" in favour of those who are young, cheaper but of child-bearing age (with consequent on-costs)? Older men and women do not need to take time off to look after children - they raised their families before the advent of maternity/paternity leave, if necessary by leaving the workforce and living on a reduced income until the time was right to return to work.
    Jennifer, Solihull, England

    This is a message to the anti-children brigade. There have been many comments that parents are sponging from society. These people obviously no idea how much it costs to bring up a child. Lets say I spend £100,000 pounds bringing up my child and these other individuals pay the same amount on their own selfish consumerism. Well, my child will grow up to be an important member of society no doubt contributing to the economy by paying taxes themselves. When these childless people are on their death-bed what will most of them have left behind for society? Nothing, but the waste and pollution of their consumerism. Who do you think will have got better value for money?
    Richard, Banbury, Oxfordshire, UK

    I am saddened by some of the comments made here about family life but I can also understand why people feel that way. I'm unable to have children but feel that by not producing more consumers of the world's finite natural resources I am making sure there is enough to go round for other people's children. It is sometimes hard to be positive though when you realise that the rest of society automatically assumes you must be selfish and unhappy and heading for a sad and lonely old age just because you don't have kids.
    Jane, Cardiff, Wales

    I am childless but am neither selfish nor a child-hater. Why do people with children always assume that not having children is a selfish choice. For some of us, who have not been blessed with 'Mr or Mrs Right' our only other choice is becoming single parents - a state which is also looked down upon by the "pro-family" lobby! I am more than happy to lend my support to those lucky enough to have children, but if state subsidies come into it, why not a state subsidy to boost my pension as a 'thank you' for not adding to the over-population problems, over-crowded schools etc. and helping as subsidiser, supporter and often unpaid babysitter to my child-blessed colleagues and friends?
    Sam, Leeds, UK

    I doubt that there will be state pensions when I retire

    Ian, Buntingford, England

    Single people are the majority. If we were not paying such high taxes to support people with children we could afford to pay for our own private pensions. I doubt that there will be state pensions when I retire (or so small as to be worthless)
    Ian, Buntingford, England

    The short-term selfish view: Your kids, your problem. Long term practical view: Your kids, our future. If we don't invest in our children today, what can we expect from them in the future? What goes around, comes around.
    Bernie Caudery, Melbourne, Australia

    Why can't parents work this out with their company?

    Martin V, USA
    Why can't parents work this out with their company? I know over here we have many companies that provide in-house day care and other services. That way, a person can be at work but "pop-in" and visit their children from time to time. I think this is much better than having the Government mandate some type of universal standard that may or may not work out for most situations. Flexibility is the answer.
    Martin V, USA

    Lighten up all you childless "put-upons". One day you will be old, retired and maybe infirm. Who do you think will be paying for your pensions, medical care and providing the goods and services you will need then? The very kids whose parents you vilify as "freeloaders". It's in your self interest to ensure that other people's children are properly looked after and educated, so you need to do your part to as members of society too.
    Paul Droar, New Jersey, USA

    I think that if the Government put the extra money into improving the quality of childcare available then people would not feel the need to take so much time off work. I have recently returned to work after maternity leave and have been very disappointed by the so called 'care' available for my child. I would consider leaving my job as I feel there is no reasonable alternative.
    Helen, Swansea, Wales

    I'll put up with paying large chunks of taxes for the education, health and welfare of other people's children. I'll put up with the fact that the medical insurance which pays out for my colleagues' births but rejects my vasectomy as non-essential and elective. I'll put up with TV watersheds, child-proof bottles and censorship. Just don't ask me to swallow the notion that these breeders are performing some sort of public service for which I should be grateful.
    Chris Davis, Newbury, UK

    They should not expect their Government and fellow citizens without children to pay for their indulgence

    William Sterling, London, UK
    I have nothing against people having children if they are prepared to take on all the responsibilities that involves but they should not expect their Government and fellow citizens without children to pay for their indulgence. If there were any danger of the developed world becoming underpopulated there are plenty of places in the world with surplus population who could be encouraged to let those prepared to move to migrate to the developed countries concerned.
    William Sterling, London, UK

    Are we to become slaves to corporations who cannot organise around people having their own lives? Boundless pressure for more work results in people working stupid hours and having no time for their children - and we wonder why we have a yob culture!? The minimum wage did not sink business, nor will a few extra weeks off for parental leave (about 4 weeks per male lifetime, taking into account the average number of kids per person). These measures are right and just and should be carried forward. Such systems do no harm to our colleagues in the EU, and if they are good enough for them, they are good enough for us!
    Nick, Reading, UK

    Yes there "is" such a thing as too much special treatment. Consider this [unlikely] scenario: Each and every parent could stop working and stay home for 18 (or 21) years to raise their children and have 100% of their living expenses paid by the state. How productive would that country be? For how long would the wage-earning childless hand over nearly every dollar/pound they earn before revolting?
    Richard, California, USA

    I was sort of looking forward to returning to the UK, but considering the disgraceful comments regarding children and family life, I think I'll stay here and pay my taxes to the Austrians.
    Mark, Vienna, Austria

    I do not want a Nanny state that taxes high and then redistributes wealth to suit their social engineering policies

    Julian, England
    As a parent, I know that my family are my responsibility. I do not want a Nanny state that taxes high and then redistributes wealth to suit their social engineering policies. I do find things like 'childcare vouchers' discriminate against those parents who invest their day full-time in the upbringing of their children.
    Julian, Littlehampton, England

    I work for a US company looking to invest in Europe. One of the key factors is social costs - Belgium, for example, is off the scale because the up front and long run costs merely to employ somebody are prohibitive. I am a new parent and would love to spend more time with my kid, but assuming I go back to the UK, our first priorities will be seeking out the job opportunities to support our family. Measures like this would ultimately make that less likely.
    Stephen, Washington DC, USA (British)

    Seems to me that British companies are far behind in taking the approach that employees are just not work horses and they breath, drink and eat the job. How about creating flex hours. If you need a half day next week, work an extra hour for 4 days the previous week, or make that time up the following week, and if so inclined come in on the weekend for an hour or two. What's the big deal? Flexibility works wonders in the work place, as long as the work gets done! Get a grip!
    Regina Lule, Washington D.C., USA

    Gentlemen, welcome to Hell

    David Szondy, USA (British)
    The tone of the question shows that at last we are reaching a truly enlightened state. People must let go of these musty traditions that hold back the inevitable tide of progress and realise that families are an impediment to all that we aspire to and that children are nothing but a luxury that should be looked upon with suspicion because they are not in and of themselves recognisable consumer goods. Surely it is time that we all acknowledge that our purpose on Earth is not some fuddy-duddy notion out of the Sermon on the Mount, but rather that each man and woman is an employee and a consumer. Anything else is mere backward-looking superstition. Children exist merely to replace the workforce and as a suitably gullible demographic group to be exploited. Paternity leave and the like should be supported or defended solely on their ability to support the economy until this mess of procreation springing from "love" can be rationalised into a properly optimal consumer/employee manufacturing system¿.
    Gentlemen, welcome to Hell.
    David Szondy, USA (British)

    May I ask Andrew from London who he expects to do the work in the future so that there is wealth-generating economy which will pay the pension he is no doubt expecting. OUR children, that's who!
    Steve, UK

    It's hard to believe the extraordinarily negative attitude of some people. It was Thatcher who introduced the "accounting for every penny" philosophy that brought so many attitudes and industries under the spotlight. It works up to a point. After that we are talking about something far, far more important than the bottom line. Grow up and accept the fact that although you are an individual you are also part of something greater: society. It's about helping others when they're down and expecting it in return.
    Aram, London, England

    What future is there for the English race?

    John, Paris, France
    I find the British attitude amazing. The birth rate in UK is already low by EU standards and would be far lower if it did not have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the EU. The majority of these come from the lower socio-economic part of society and is therefore unlikely to be high achievers suitable for today's workplace. The foregoing letters show how undervalued children are and goes a long way to explain why they are badly behaved showing no respect for their elders or their property.
    What future is there for the English race?
    John, Paris, France

    Although getting more time to spend with our kids is good, the best for the children and society is to have one of the parents stay at home. This is the best that we can give our children - 100% attention.
    I would like to see more encouragement go to couples where one of the parents stays at home to look after the children. Perhaps this could be a Tax Benefit like the Working Families Tax Benefit. I am the sole "breadwinner" and believe me it is VERY hard to cope on a single salary, but we are giving our boy the best we can. With the view that in the future, he will benefit. This action should be encouraged: it is the best way to ensure that the future has a society.
    Matt Fletcher, Hants, England

    Parents should receive more understanding but also non-parents should receive compensation

    Shannon, Seattle, WA USA
    Let's look at it from another point. Everyone loves the economy, it's booming. Why? Because there are so many in the workforce. Working parents fuel the economy. Parents should receive more understanding but also non-parents should receive compensation. Our children are the future and if good care is not given to them no-one will have a good future. You may choose not to have children but you can't deny that children are necessary to our society and that the care of the children is extremely important. Be equitable but quit griping about the children.
    Shannon, Seattle, WA USA

    I am truly amazed at the short-sightedness of some people, who treat having children as just a "lifestyle choice". I wonder whether they realise that it is today's children that will be working hard to pay their pensions when they retire. And that if the majority chooses the "lifestyle" without children, the pension system will collapse. I believe society should do a lot more to make it easier to have and raise children. And childless people should stop having the free ride they enjoy now.
    Evangelos Milios, Halifax, Canada

    If you can't budget for your staff to procreate, get yourself another business plan

    Bob, UK
    Remember, children are the most important thing on the planet, not the profits of shareholders. If you can't budget for your staff to procreate, get yourself another business plan. Who are the employees of the future anyway?
    Bob, UK

    Those who question the value of help for parents and time for parenting should think on this: Along with the rest of us, it will be their windows that are smashed in, their cars that are nicked and their grannies who are terrorised by the dysfunctional kids from the dysfunctional families of tomorrow. None of us are islands.
    Phil Calcott, Worcester, UK

    For those of you with kids, stop trying to use reasoned argument to justify my paying for your biological urge to breed. It is a parasitic activity to benefit yourself and your lifestyle at my expense. Be humble and please be quiet.
    Alan, UK

    Once again the "poor me" brigade are on their soapboxes when family issues in the UK are raised. I believe paternity leave should be compulsory in this economic age where male and females alike are supposedly treated equally. The future of any country is dependent on their future generations. The sad and selfish childless individuals who continuously whine about "paying" for progress involving children need to realise this fact.
    Eddie Mc Carthy, Denver, USA (Irish)

    A society that does not care for the young is a dying society. It is as simple as that.
    Xavier, London

    Why should parents of children get parental leave? Because they are bringing up the next generation of our species. Pets are completely different and the comparison is facile. Any company that cannot handle a father taking two weeks off is going to go bust. How do they cope if people are ill for a fortnight? Or go on holiday? The point is nonsense scare-mongering.
    Stuart, London, UK

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