MPs Call for 12 Weeks of Paternity Leave

The Women and Equalities Select Committee have this week recommended that paternity leave in Britain is ‘radically reformed’ to encourage fathers to take more time off work upon the birth of their children.

Currently fathers are entitled to 1-2 weeks paternity pay when their partner gives birth, or the couple are adopting or having a child through a surrogate.

Three years ago the government also introduced the option of shared parental leave, giving couples the ability to split 50 weeks of leave entitlement and 37 weeks of pay. However, it is estimated that less than 2% of couples have used this since its introduction.

‘Use it or lose it’

As an alternative the committee has recommended that fathers should now get 12 weeks of ‘use it or lose it’ paternity leave.

The committee argues that the current laws surrounding paternity mean that Britain will never be able to truly tackle the gender pay gap. For as long as it is perceived to be the mother’s role to take extended leave after birth, it is likely that the pay gap will remain, with employers seeing men as more reliable and less likely to take a number of weeks or months off.

Maria Miller, the committee chair, spoke to The Guardian newspaper on this point, saying: ”Parental leave and the gender pay gap are closely linked … until we get it right for dads we can’t get it right for mums.”

Men’s concerns over parental leave

The enquiry was launched in response to a number of studies and surveys which suggested that men feel unable to take time off during their children’s early years for not only financial reasons, but also professional and cultural reasons too.

Fathers spoke of their difficulty in persuading employees to take their leave requests seriously, while others worried they would be damaging their future careers, or be side-lined if they asked for a flexible working pattern.

This wariness is likely the reason that so few families have taken advantage of shared parental leave.

Additionally, shared parental leave means parents aren’t able to spend time with their new child together. The proposed changes would give parents 12 weeks together with their new-born; a great bonding experience, especially for first time parents.

The committee chair also said that it is crucial that this new 12-week leave should be available to men of all incomes, as many on lower incomes had said they could not afford to take leave at the same rate as statutory maternity pay, which is around £140 per week.

They recommend instead introducing it at 90% of the father’s pay, although this would be capped for higher earners.

The committee also added that flexible working should be advertised as an option by all firms from day one, unless there are ‘proper business reasons not to’, in order to tackle the issue of dads feeling they would be perceived negatively for taking shared parental leave, which many believed would show a lack of commitment to their job.

The chief executive of the UK’s work life balance charity Working Families, Sarah Jackson, had a positive response to the proposed changes, saying that a proper period of paternity leave would send a ‘strong signal’ on the importance of the father being involved in their child’s early years development.

The results of a review into shared parental leave will be announced by the government later this year.

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