But the logic of the process is to eventually make the father's share of the leave non-transferable, just as the Scandinavians have done. If the father doesn't use the leave, it will be lost.
The new policy is based on a Demos report written by Jen Lexmond. Jen Lexmond has already made it clear on her blog that although she sees the new policy of transferable leave as a "huge step forward", she "would rather see non-transferable equal parental leave in order to address issues of gender inequality".
That's the end goal of all this: "non-transferable equal parental leave". In other words, the mother and father would have to take an equal amount of leave in the interests of gender equality.
Jen Lexmond has further explained her preference as follows:
I think that more equal parental leave would produce more equal families, where fathers are just as likely as mothers to take on caring responsibilities at home, where children grow up with less gendered expectations about what their role will be in the future, where the pay gap would narrow...
A society where it was just as likely for a father as for a mother to take a career break during their children's early years would be a society where the pay gap might start to narrow. If there was no way of predicting who was more likely to bow out, there would be no economic incentive to withhold promotion, training, or pay rises from one group over another. The pay gap exists today much more as an expression of risk management on behalf of employers than of explicit discrimination against women.Note that in the last quote, Jen Lexmond again reveals that the end goal is "equal, and non-transferable, leave". She hopes that families won't be given a say, but will either have to accept unisex parenting roles or else lose their entitlements.
That's where public policy reform comes in, starting with a move to take it or lose it parental leave that provides equal, and non-transferable, leave for both parents.
Note too that the purpose of paternal leave is not to help men or families. It's based on the feminist assumption that what really matters are career and pay outcomes. If it's women who take time off to care for their children, then feminists fear that employers might favour men in the workplace. So feminists like Jen Lexmond want leave to be taken equally by men and women.
And, of course, equal leave also fits in with the larger liberal aim of making gender not matter. There is to be a very neat, uniform, undifferentiated system in which both men and women have the same commitment to paid work, earn the same amount of money, spend the same short amount of time at home performing the same kind of maternal work, before then returning to paid work.
Can the unisex plan succeed? That remains to be seen. It has some advantages for the state. It means that women get drawn into the paid labour force which increases the tax base and labour force and decreases wages. It can also work as a hidden form of protectionism: employers no longer have to pay men working in private industry a living wage, since the state is paying their wives a wage in some kind of state employment (that's how it tends to work in Scandinavia).
On the other hand, it increases taxes at a time that many European countries are already overspending and heavily in debt. It must also over time endanger the male work ethic. If men are no longer providers, and if it's thought progressive for women to earn the money in a family, then some men will be tempted to do just what feminists want them to do, namely to downscale their work commitments.
One final point. Liberalism claims to be extending the realm of human freedom and autonomy. But is it really the case that paid leave achieves this? In the past, families were more self-sufficient. The family itself was an independent unit of society, functioning according to its own principles.
What we are moving toward is a life organised not around the family, but around state and employer. It is the state which decides who is to look after children and for how long. It is the state or the employer that supplies the money to allow parenting to take place at all. Our lives are to be organised increasingly around our employment in the paid labour force, rather than independently of it.
This doesn't strike me as a genuine advance in human freedom. It strikes me rather as just one more "stripping down" of the individual, a further loss of particular qualities and relationships with which the individual acts independently of the state.