TUC calls on the government to reform support for new dads, as studies show longer paternity leave benefits everyone in the family.
Half of fathers take less paternity leave than they want to and a fifth take no leave at all, according to a new poll that highlights the low level of state support for new dads.
Exactly 50% of fathers felt they couldn’t take enough leave to support their families, while 21% took no leave, according to a survey by the Trades Union Congress, a large federation of unions. Amongst the dads who took no leave, the most cited reason was that they couldn’t afford a drop in income.
In the UK, employed fathers are legally entitled to just two consecutive weeks of paternity leave, paid at a weekly rate of £172.48 or 90% of their average earnings, whichever is lower. The £172.48 rate is significantly less than the take-home pay even for a full-time minimum-wage job. Self-employed workers are not entitled to any paternity pay.
As a result, more than half (53%) of families said they struggled financially when the father took paternity leave, the TUC survey found. Dads who were on low incomes or self-employed reported higher than average rates of not taking any leave at all.
Several studies have shown that giving fathers longer and better-paid paternity leave benefits everyone in their household for years to come. Fathers who take more leave often remain very involved at home in the long-term, as many parenting patterns are formed in a baby’s first weeks and months.
PwC’s latest Women in Work report, published in March, forecast that even just giving UK fathers five weeks of paid paternity leave would lead to significant boosts in fathers’ mental health, mothers’ working hours and earnings, and children’s educational attainment.
“It’s not right that so many dads can’t afford to take time off work when their babies are born,” Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, said in a statement.
“Without better rights to well-paid leave, too many new parents will still miss out on spending time with their babies. And mums will continue to take on the bulk of caring.”
A rising number of employers now offer “enhanced” paternity leave packages, which go beyond the statutory minimums. Our Workingdads.co.uk website has in recent months profiled fathers at companies such as Zurich UK, the insurer, which provides 16 weeks of fully paid paternity leave.
Some companies are also starting to offer “equal parental leave”, which gives the same enhanced packages to mothers and fathers. For example, the insurance company Aviva gives all new parents a year off, six months of which is fully paid. The online market Etsy, the news agency Reuters, and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme are also among those that have launched non-gendered parental leave policies.
While this is positive, it leaves working parents vulnerable to whether or not they have a supportive employer. The government does offer two-parent families a scheme called shared parental leave but this has long seen low take-up rates, partly as it is low-paid and partly as it involves mothers giving up some of their maternity leave so dads can take time off.
The TUC is thus calling on the government to reform the legal minimums for all new dads. Their proposed solutions include statutory paternity pay that at least matches the real living wage, plus self-employed dads having the same rights as those who are employed.
“Ministers should give all dads better-paid paternity leave – and create a new right to well-paid parental leave just for dads, that doesn’t rely on mums giving up some of their maternity leave,” Nowak said.