Earlier this year, the Prime Minister of New Zealand became only the second head of state ever to give birth and take maternity leave whilst in office. Over here in the UK, the situation is rather different, with no formal requirement for ‘baby leave’ for either MPs or councillors.
The LGA Labour Women’s Taskforce, set up earlier this year to look at the issues faced by women in Labour local government, decided from the outset that they wanted to show leadership on this issue, so set about writing a parental leave policy for councillors. A parental leave policy will give certainty to councillors and councils alike when a councillor needs to take time off after the birth or adoption of a child, and the lack of parental leave would not be a deterrent to someone becoming a councillor.
In 2017 the Fawcett Society found that only 4% of councils in England and Wales had a formal parental leave policy in place. Others make informal arrangements, but this is based entirely on the discretion of the leader at the time. Parental leave for councillors shouldn’t just be a ‘nice to have’ dispensed at someone’s discretion, and it shouldn’t be seen as just being for women. Support such as this is important in encouraging women and men of all backgrounds to be councillors, as it shows that we, as Labour groups and Labour-controlled councils, are serious about welcoming people as councillors regardless of what their commitments may be.
It is in line with our Labour values to support councillors who’ve become mothers or fathers, either through birth or adoption, to spend time with their babies and adopted children. Labour groups and Labour councils should not be standing in the way of that. Workplaces are becoming ever more flexible when it comes to parental leave, and councils need to recognise this – if a councillor is taking maternity or paternity leave from their main job, why should they not be able to take leave from being a councillor too?
Our model policy has been sent out to all Labour council leaders and Labour group leaders and we are urging them all to adopt the policy as soon as possible. We have written two policies – one to cover Labour groups, one to cover full councils, and both of these are available to view on the LGA Labour website. The policies set out an entitlement of six months parental leave, with an option of extending it for a further six months if agreed locally. Councillors will of course have to attend one meeting every six months as a legal requirement, and this is noted as part of the policy. There is also reference to the basic allowance, which all councillors will continue to receive and to what to do in the event that a councillor receiving an SRA takes parental leave. We’ve also included how to deal with a change in role when a councillor is on parental leave, and how selections should be dealt with when a councillor is taking this leave.
As of the 2018 local elections, only 26 Labour councils out of 119 are led by women, and 45% of Labour councillors are women. We have 133 Labour groups with three or more councillors, and only 33 of these groups are led by women. Whilst it is clear that Labour is getting more women to stand as councillors, these same women aren’t progressing on to be cabinet members or leaders. This policy is a first step in doing so – allowing women to take time off, but also giving men the opportunity to take parental leave so that the burden doesn’t fall entirely on women.
The LGA Labour Women’s Taskforce will be continuing to look at issues that affect women in local government – we are planning to draw up a carers’ and sickness leave policy, to look at the system of allowances and to look at the culture of Labour groups. We are looking forward to working with Labour councils and Labour groups to make sure as many as possible adopt these policies to make Labour local government as inclusive as possible.
Cllr Lib Peck is deputy leader of the LGA Labour group and leader of Lambeth Council.