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Sunday, 21 May, 2000, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Blair baby sparks leave debate
Blairs together
UK dads did not get statutory paternity leave until 1999
The arrival of a new baby in the Prime Minister's household has prompted a debate on how much time off work - if any - fathers should be given to care for their children.

Mr Blair has not disclosed how much time off he will be taking, although he has said he will try to adapt his work schedule to the new arrival's demands.

Until last year, fathers in Britain were not entitled to any statutory paternity leave.

I very much hope that Mr Blair will take his leave

Jim Parton of Families Need Fathers

As a result of Britain having to fall into line with laws applied across the European Union, however, British fathers may now take, as a right, up to 13 weeks unpaid leave within the first five years of their child's life.

Mothers in Britain are entitled to 18 weeks paid maternity leave around the birth of their baby, and they are also entitled to the 13 weeks unpaid leave now available to fathers across the EU.

Jim Parton, of the pressure group Families Need Fathers, says paternity leave is an entirely welcome and long overdue advance.

He told the BBC: "I think it's very encouraging that legislation has been imported from Europe, making it a right. It's a shame that it's not to be paid.

Tony Blair
All eyes are on how much leave Mr Blair takes

"I know a lot of employers who complained that it's yet another cost.

"But when you consider that most people [in Britain] only have 2.3 children each [on average], it isn't much of a burden for most employers to be able to pay a little bit of money for their employees to take time off during the birth of a child."

He added: "I very much hope that Mr Blair will take his leave and set a good example."

Compared with many developed countries, British paternity leave is not very generous.

Sweden is the most generous, allowing up to 450 days parental leave to be allocated between both parents and with up to 85% of their income to be paid for the first year.

Time off work
Sweden - up to 450 days
Japan - one year
France - up to 26 weeks
Britain - 13 weeks
USA - no leave
Australia - no leave

Japan gives one year's parental leave, also transferable between parents and with an allowance of 25% of earnings.

France allows up to 26 weeks 100% paid maternity leave and three years parental leave, although not paid.

Britain allows 13 weeks unpaid parental leave and is more generous than the US, Australia and New Zealand - none of them allow for any paid leave.

Russia and the Czech Republic both allow more paid leave for mothers than does Britain.

I think we are actually going through a major revolution

Family lobbyist Yvonne Roberts

Yvonne Roberts, who helps run a pressure group for families, says it is vital that parents are given enough time with their new offspring before returning to work.

She told the BBC: "I think we are actually going through a major revolution in Britain and America and parts of Europe.

"We want to try and the get the balance between work and home much more evenly distributed."

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21 May 00 | UK
Blair baby 'doing fine'
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