Poor rates of statutory paternity pay are stopping dads taking time off, but mums are affected by the same low rates. A review of parental leave policies is needed.
There were a flurry of press reports this week about untaken paternity leave after the law firm EMW, which does an annual analysis of take-up, published stats showing only around a third of eligible dads take even two weeks off when their baby is born.
It’s a stark statistic and money is clearly a big factor. Aviva’s experience shows the difference pay can make. It is one of the first UK employers to introduce an equal parental leave policy, offering new parents in its UK business 12 months’ parental leave, with six months at full basic pay. 80% of men at the company have taken at least five months out of work when a new child arrives, and 79% of men have taken over five months for subsequent births.
But in campaigning for an increase in statutory paternity pay, is there a danger that male breadwinner norms are solidified? Claims about statutory paternity pay often rest on the fact that men can’t afford to go on leave because they are the main earners. Women can presumably afford to live on around 150 pounds a week for 33 weeks because the men’s wage supplements theirs. Surely the statutory rate should be raised for all and at the very least be raised in line with inflation? Instead it has only gone up by just 3% this year very much under the inflation rate.
Moreover, as the Aviva example shows employers have been stepping into the breach opened up by low statutory rates. But most employers can’t afford to do this and self employed dads miss out altogether. The divide between those who are in secure, well paid jobs and the rest increases all the time. That is where Government must come in to provide a basic standard.
Meanwhile, many dads who can are getting around the paternity pay problem by working from home more so they are around for their partner without losing pay. This is undoubtedly helpful, but it still relies on the mum as main carer norm.
So what can be done? If paternity leave is low, Shared Parental Leave, designed to share the load more and promote greater equality generally, has been a bit of a flop with uptake percentages still stuck in the single digits despite numerous relaunches and pushes. In addition to pay, this is in large part because it is really complex and because it makes parents feel like dads are taking something away from mums. Campaigners have long argued for a stand alone, use it or lose period of several weeks of paternity leave. There are so many things that are not functioning well when it comes to parental leave. At some stage there will need to be a review of the whole system to look at how to help those who most need it so that everyone has the option of taking time off when their child is born.