Working fathers desperate to spend more time with their children are being failed by current policies, according to a parliamentary committee which is calling for men to be given 12 weeks of paternity leave.
Parental leave policies must be overhauled to allow fathers to better balance their childcare duties and working life – and to help eliminate the gender pay gap, the Women and Equalities Committee has said.
Less well-off fathers in particular are being let down, despite the Government’s “good intentions”, the committee states in a report published on Tuesday.
Shared parental leave, which allows both parents to collectively take up to 50 weeks of leave – 37 weeks of which is paid – providing they meet certain criteria, was introduced in 2015.
These findings come as the deadline for gender pay gap reporting looms: organisations with 250 or more employees must publish specific figures about pay disparities by 5 April.
The Government has said it wants to “enable families to share caring roles more easily” but fathers, mothers, employment organisations and other experts have indicated that current policies “do not deliver what they promise”, the report says.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) recently revealed that take-up among the estimated 285,000 couples who qualify for shared parental leave every year could be as low as two per cent.
The Women and Equalities Committee has published a series of recommendations to stop the Government’s “well-intentioned” policies from being “undermined”.
Closing the gender pay gap
Increasing paternity pay for fathers could play a key role in closing the gender pay gap, the Government has previously said.
A higher rate of pay could enable more fathers to take time off work to fulfil their childcare responsibilities, thus enabling mothers who want to return to work early to do so.
BEIS said in a statement: “The Government is determined to ensure everyone can succeed in the workplace which is why we recently announced new protections for millions of workers, as well as promoting current employment rights.
“We have also launched a campaign to encourage more parents to take up Shared Parental Leave so they can better balance childcare and their careers and we are launching a taskforce to review how the right to request flexible working is currently being applied.”
What dads have to say
One father who gave evidence to the Committee said he asked for an extra five days paternity leave to bond with his baby after his partner was hospitalised for several days following the birth but his company was “not interested”. He said: “All they wanted to know was ‘How soon are you coming back?’…They just did not want to know. You have to treat people as humans.” Another father described how, as he and his wife were preparing to take on special guardianship of his niece and nephew, he was informed by his local authority he would need to stay at home to look after the youngsters, along with his own two children, while they weren’t in full time education. His line manager asked: “Can’t mum just look after the kids?” There exists a sense of embarrassment and fear around choosing to take shared parental leave, another father pointed out. “That embarrassment is about whether they are going to be the only or the first one to do it and how that would make them feel with regards to…their colleagues,” he said. “Also there is an element of fear…Are they seen as soft? Is this the thing men do? There is all that macho culture that exists when someone says, ‘I am taking time off to look after my baby.’” The fathers also spoke about being mocked by colleagues for working fewer hours to accommodate their childcare duties, receiving comments such as “Bye, part-timer”.
Working fathers in the UK
Paid paternity leave was only introduced in the UK in 2003 In 1961 the amount of time fathers spent caring for preschoolers was 12 to 15 per cent of the time that mothers spent doing so; in 2017 that figure stood at 46 per cent, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics.