The fathers who are missing out on better leave and pay rights
In around 50 days’ time, working parents will have access to the new system of shared parental leave that allows women to share up to 50 weeks of their maternity leave and 37 weeks’ pay with their partner. The opportunity it will give some fathers to take time off work to spend with their children is something to celebrate. But many fathers will continue to miss out on being able to spend a decent amount of time at home to bond with their new baby. The TUC estimates that 2 in 5 employed fathers will not be eligible for any more time off once SPL comes in. Most of the disqualified fathers will miss out because their partner is not in paid work and so she doesn’t have any right to maternity leave or pay that she can convert into SPL.
Also, with this re-design of leave rights, nothing was done to improve access to paternity leave and pay. The TUC estimates that every year at least 44,000 fathers miss out on the chance to take two weeks’ paid paternity leave at the time of the birth because they don’t have the required length of service with their employer. In addition, over 9,000 agency workers don’t qualify for paternity leave or pay and about 93,000 self-employed fathers receive no help to take time off work when they have a baby. By contrast, maternity rights are a day one right for all employees. And agency workers and self-employed mothers get some, albeit not very generous, financial support in the form of maternity allowance (this benefit matches the flat rate of statutory maternity pay which is appallingly low and should be increased).
One young father who didn’t qualify for any paid time off when his first child was born because he was an agency worker told the TUC that he took a week off with no pay and that if he’d taken any longer they wouldn’t have been able to afford nappies. He was then back at work and sometimes doing 10-hour shifts which made it hard for him to support his partner and bond with his daughter. He told us:
“Simple things like feeding the baby were sometimes a struggle because the baby didn’t feel as comfy with me. Also because I had to go to work my partner would let me sleep and she would do the night feeds, I would wake up and we would have a whispering argument over who should go back to bed and she would be getting tired and I would be useless in work.”
He added that because of his long shifts, his partner would be home alone for a long time each day. She suffered from depression and he explained,
“I wasn’t able to take time off to support her through this or even identify it early enough to prevent it”.
His union helped get him onto a permanent contract so if he has another child he will at least qualify for two weeks’ paternity leave which his employer would fully pay. However, he would still not qualify for any extra time off in the first year under SPL because his partner is a student and not in paid work.
The UK is decades behind many other European countries in terms of fathers’ leave and pay. The current statutory pay rate for fathers who take leave in the UK is £138.18 a week (due to rise to £139.56 a week from April). This is just a quarter of the median weekly wage for full-time male employees (over 90% of fathers of young children work full-time) and just over half the weekly wage for a worker earning the National Minimum Wage for a 40-hour week. This table shows how this payment compares to European countries where fathers have a statutory right to some well paid, father only leave. The take up rates in most of these countries far outstrip the 1.4 per cent of fathers who have taken additional paternity leave (the transferable leave system that was the forerunner to SPL) and the estimated 2 to 8 per cent of eligible fathers who are expected to use SPL – that’s between 5,700 and 22,800 employed fathers a year benefiting from it out of the 490,000 employed fathers who have a child aged under one.
What’s more, only half of fathers who are eligible for paternity leave take the full two-week entitlement. Two-thirds of those who don’t take the full entitlement say it is because they can’t afford to. Only a quarter of the lowest paid fathers take two weeks or more paternity leave and they are the least likely to benefit from their employer topping up their statutory pay. Two in five high paid fathers in professional and managerial jobs get full pay from their employer but only one in five of the lowest paid fathers.
Below are four suggested next steps for an incoming government to enable more fathers to take time off work, whatever their income, employment status or the employment status of their partner:
- Make fathers’ leave a day one right as maternity leave is – TUC estimates that at least one in eleven employee fathers are excluded from leave rights because they lack the necessary 26 weeks’ qualifying service by the 15th week before the baby is due.
- Introduce an additional month of paid parental leave and reserve it for fathers only to use – Having some parental leave that is not dependent on a mother’s eligibility to maternity rights would open up paid parental leave to about 200,000 more fathers (if the rights were made day one rights too).
- Improve statutory pay rates – Relying on employers to top up statutory pay means many families, especially low income ones, miss out. The value of statutory pay, which is now £10 a week less than it would have been had this Government maintained the link to RPI, must be restored. The next step could be to raise statutory pay to NMW levels and to level up statutory pay for fathers so they get two weeks’ paternity leave and a month’s father only parental leave at 90% of earnings, mirroring the first six weeks of statutory maternity pay.
- Introduce a paternal/parental allowance for those who don’t qualify for statutory pay –Such a benefit would mirror the maternity allowance which mothers who don’t qualify for statutory maternity pay can claim.