British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday used the country’s second “March for Women” march to announce measures in Parliament to provide parents of children under 18 with paid parental leave for the first time.
Two weeks’ paid leave will be available for parents to share for a one-year period starting from the end of 2018, and then for another two years after. The new government plan should be in place by 2020. The policy will save the average British family of four roughly GBP4,700 ($5,835) in childcare costs each year, while also supporting the creation of one million new jobs, according to the government.
This is the second major new investment in women’s equality since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union in June 2016. May previously announced plans to allow fathers to take the eight weeks of paternity leave provided for in the UK’s Civil Service Code, as well as to implement paid paternity leave for mothers that is equivalent to 40 weeks of paid maternity leave.
The prime minister said the move, seen as a message to male employees that they are valued, should be seen as “a marker for progress” from Parliament.
“This isn’t just about getting the policy right, but about how the right policies change people’s behavior,” May said in a video message released by the Prime Minister’s Office. “I am changing my own policy so that after I’ve taken maternity leave and after both parents have taken the baby’s first year of childcare — I can continue my job while being there for my baby daughter, too.”
These proposals come as the government gears up for its upcoming general election scheduled for June 8, in which May is seeking to win an increased majority in the House of Commons.
The first Parliament of the 21st century will include just 23 women in its 650-member House of Commons. While the UK House of Lords is female-dominated, with 327 women serving as members, the House of Commons has 18 women in its 315-member government.
Feminist groups say these numbers are unacceptable and point to the need for far greater representation of women in government, while government officials say that these figures accurately reflect the demographic makeup of the country.
According to the Office for National Statistics, women make up 46 percent of England and Wales’ population. On average, five women out of every six parliamentary seats are held by women, with a record eight out of 10 of Britain’s women sitting as members of the House of Commons, the upper house.
In 2015, the last year data was available, the House of Commons had 252 female MPs (9.1 percent) compared to 196 male MPs (54.4 percent). In the UK, education has historically been less progressive and only 30 percent of women in the workplace complete a university degree.
May is seeking support from women in her Conservative Party and is seeing significant support from young people, whose votes have turned out to be crucial in recent elections.
After the 2013 general election, in which her party lost its majority, May held a party conference with only 13 female speakers and it was widely seen as a total setback for women in politics and the female vote. However, in 2015, the prime minister used the conference to encourage women to run and so far this year, 62 percent of candidates running for Parliament are women.
May is seeking to reset Britain’s political course and last year after her government sought and won a mandate from British voters to commit to “Brexit means Brexit,” a line which refers to the withdrawal from the European Union.
May is viewed by many voters as someone capable of delivering on her promise. Her government responded to calls from opposition Labour politicians to guarantee women would retain access to the limited maternity leave to which they are entitled under the Civil Service Code, allowing them to return to work part-time as long as it is not completely incompatible with their work.
Following May’s announcement on Thursday, a spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said Labour had not ruled out offering paid parental leave in the future.
According to the Children’s Society’s Annual Report, Prime Minister Theresa May has committed to invest £3.5 billion ($4.8 billion) in parenting and childcare services by 2020 — making it the most generous public investment in this area since 1931. Read more about this story at vox.com