The number of fathers claiming paternity leave has fallen for the first time in five years, to 213,500, down 3% from 221,000 last year, according to official figures obtained by law firm EMW LLP.
In comparison with low rates of paternity leave, nearly treble the number of mothers (662,700) took maternity leave in 2017-2018, up from 661,000 in 2016/17.
EMW says the wide gap between mothers taking maternity leave and fathers taking paternity leave may reinforce the current “status quo” of women predominantly taking charge of child care arrangements.
It suggests a driver behind the widening gap in recent years may be the lack of parental leave rights in the growing “gig economy”, where workers are more than twice as likely to be male (69%) than female (31%). However, the number of people who are employed has been rising in relation to self-employed workers in recent years, according to the Office for National Statistics.
People working in the “gig economy” are typically treated as self-employed contractors, a status which does not offer statutory paternity benefits, although there have been legal moves to challenge some of these contracts.
Jon Taylor, Principal in EMW’s Employment team, says: “The continuing low take-up of paternity leave among men is a cause of frustration for many young families. For many fathers working in the ‘gig economy’ taking time off is just not an option.
“The fact that the majority of workers in the ‘gig economy’ are men, means that the gap between mothers and fathers taking leave is continuing to widen. It’s disappointing to still see such a low turnout of men claiming parental leave, despite several initiatives being launched across both the public and private sector to encourage more men to take it.
“However, businesses are beginning to do more to offer both men and women more flexible parental leave with many companies embracing flexible work schemes allowing more parents to work from home. Hopefully this will lead to a greater take up among fathers in the future.”