Working fathers should be given the chance to play a bigger role in early parenting, through an entitlement to four weeks of paid leave following the birth of their child, according to the think tank IPPR.
IPPR argues that this doubling of the current paternity leave entitlement of just 2 weeks should be combined with a doubling of the level of pay and paid at least the national minimum wage.
More than 400,000 working dads a year would benefit.
Only 55 per cent of fathers take the full 2 weeks off work when their child is born and one third of eligible fathers do not take any of their statutory leave at all. Most state this is because they can’t afford to take the entitlement.
The current legal entitlement for working fathers is paid at a flat rate of £138.18 a week – that is equivalent to just £3.45 an hour for a 40-hour working week, little more than half the rate of the minimum wage. IPPR propose that the statutory paternity leave entitlement should not only be extended but should be paid at least the national minimum wage, with employers also encouraged to bridge the gap between the statutory rate and the father’s actual pay – and those employers that currently do will have a smaller gap to bridge under these proposals.
The proposed 4 weeks of paternity leave would be a period of leave specifically for fathers that cannot be taken by mothers. This so-called ‘use it or lose it’ dedicated leave for fathers has resulted in a greater uptake of the entitlement in Nordic countries. From 2015, mothers will be able to share up to 50 weeks of their leave with the father but the government expects take-up of the new shared leave entitlements to be low (between 2% and 8%).
IPPR estimate that this proposal would cost around £150 million in 2015/16, on top of existing spending on paternity leave (based on take-up of the full entitlement would rising from 55 to 70 per cent), and that employers would be reimbursed on the same basis as they are now.
IPPR also argues that working dads should also be able to get twice as much paid time off to go with mum to more hospital scans and midwife appointments.
IPPR recommend that that fathers-to-be have a legal right to paid time off for up to four antenatal appointments, rather than the two appointments they will be entitled to from October 2014. This would enable prospective fathers to support their partners, while signalling an expectation that fathers should be deeply involved in raising their children right from the start.
Kayte Lawton, IPPR Senior Research Fellow, said: “New parents need time away from work to care for their young children, and to strengthen their relationship with each other at what can be a hugely enjoyable but also very stressful time. However, this is often difficult for fathers because they have limited entitlements to paid leave, and so they often assume the role of breadwinner while their partner is on maternity leave. Fathers who take more than a few days off around the birth of their child are more likely to be actively involved in raising their child than those who do not. Fathers’ greater involvement in family life can make it easier for mothers to return to work after taking maternity leave, which helps to raise the family’s income and lessen the impact of motherhood on women’s careers.”