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, ahead of Father's Day.
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."
Notes to Editors
Currently, working fathers have a legal entitlement to two weeks of paternity leave, paid at a flat rate of £138.18 a week (or 90 per cent of earnings if that figure is lower). This is paid in the first instance by the employer, who can then reclaim 92 per cent of the cost from the government (or 103 per cent for small firms). The current rate of paternity leave is equivalent to just £3.45 an hour for a 40-hour working week, little more than half the rate of the minimum wage. For families on modest incomes, this drop in wages – even if only for two weeks – can have a significant impact, particularly at a time when families are faced with all the extra costs of a new baby. Employers often provide occupational paternity leave and pay beyond the statutory entitlement, but this is far from universal and is skewed towards higher earners. Although the majority of fathers take some time off work when their child is born, just over half (55 per cent) take the full two weeks. A third of eligible fathers do not take any of their statutory leave, with most of them saying this is because they cannot afford to take the entitlement (some fathers choose to use paid holiday leave instead, in order to avoid a fall in wages).
Mothers who are in work when they become pregnant are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, which is paid for the first 39 weeks (the first six weeks is paid at 90 per cent of previous earnings, and the following 33 weeks at a flat rate of £138.18 per week, although some employers pay more). They can transfer up to 26 weeks of their leave entitlement to their partner, but this is dependent on their employment status rather than that of the father, and is paid at a low rate. From 2015, mothers will be able to share up to 50 weeks of their leave with the father (they must take the first two weeks to protect their health). This will provide greater flexibility for parents, but the government expects take-up of the new shared leave entitlements to be low (between 2 and 8 per cent). Evidence from the Nordic countries shows that fathers take paternity leave in greater numbers if it is relatively well-paid in relation to their normal earnings, and if they have a dedicated entitlement – a so-called 'use it or lose it' period of leave that cannot be taken by the mother.
Drawing on this international evidence, IPPR propose that the statutory paternity leave entitlement should be extended give fathers the right to a full months' leave (20 days), paid at least the national minimum wage. Such a measure would benefit approximately 413,000 working fathers – those who are eligible for statutory paternity leave under current employment rules – every year. We estimate that this would cost around £150 million in 2015/16, on top of existing spending on paternity leave, on the assumptions that take-up of the full entitlement would rise from 55 to 70 per cent, and that employers would be reimbursed on the same basis as they are now. Employers would be encouraged to bridge the gap between the statutory rate and the father's actual pay. However, those employers that currently do this would have a smaller gap to bridge under our proposals, and so would see the overall cost of paternity pay fall.
It is recommended that healthy pregnant women attend between nine and 12 appointments with a midwife or doctor, for tests and scans and to discuss issues such as health in pregnancy, breastfeeding, caring for a new born baby, and post-natal depression. These are all issues with which expectant fathers should be involved alongside their partner.
Pregnant women currently have a legal entitlement to paid time off to attend antenatal appointments on the advice of a doctor, midwife or health visitor. Employers must agree to any reasonable request for time off for this purpose, and the employer is not reimbursed for this by the government.
From October 2014, fathers will have a new right to unpaid time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments. We recommend that this entitlement is strengthened so that fathers-to-be have a legal right to paid time off for up to four antenatal appointments (which, as for mothers-to-be, employers would not be reimbursed for; the costs of this would be relatively small). This would mean that a father-to-be could attend, for example, the initial appointment with a GP or midwife, the 12 or 20-week scan when parents first see their unborn child, plus two further appointments later in the pregnancy. 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.