The latest idea – allowing the parents of a new baby or adopted child to share an entire year off, in any combination (apart from the first fortnight, which goes to the mother) – is impressive in its fluffiness.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, having lost the votes of students and their parents everywhere shortly after the last election, is clearly out to win the mums’ vote by telling them they no longer have to choose between a career or a baby.
But it’s not that simple. Kate Lester, herself a mother of two, is appalled at the damage such political largesse could cause her Guildford-based courier business, pointing out that the policy could result in more than 14 million lost working weeks a year across the UK.
The problem is that the world is no longer divided into big companies and downtrodden workers. We no longer all work for multi-national mining companies, nationalised transport networks and huge retail chains – and fewer and fewer of us work in the rapidly downsizing public sector.
Increasingly, we work for small start-ups, or we work for ourselves – and we need fewer fluffy policies that could cause us a headache if, as the government wants, we manage to grow and employ other people.
Kate’s flourishing courier business is growing, but it’s still fairly small – and to lose a husband and wife team for the best part of a year between them would have a huge impact on her operation.
The government is doing much to support new business; the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act is welcomed within these pages as ‘landmark’ legislation which recognises for the first time the importance of smaller firms and the contribution they make.
Small businesses need that kind of backing, along with the support for apprenticeships, the abolition of class 2 NICs contained within a generally helpful budget and other measures that have seen the UK climb steadily out of the recessionary mire.
What they don’t need is kind-hearted policies that fail to recognise the difficulties such legislation could cause fledgling businesses.