MPs call for 12 weeks of paternity leave to address gender pay gap

Committee recommends laws forcing firms to offer new fathers flexible work patterns and ringfencing their leave

Britain must radically reform parental leave to encourage more fathers to take time off work, or it will never get to grips with the gender pay gap, an influential committee of MPs has recommended.

Fathers should get the option of 12 weeks’ paid, “use it or lose it” paternity leave to try and encourage greater male involvement in the young lives of children, the women and equalities select committee reports on Tuesday.

The government should also legislate to force businesses to offer men flexible patterns such as part-time work or unusual hours because many fathers complain that bosses do not understand their need to juggle work and family life.

“Parental leave and the gender pay gap are closely linked,” the committee chair, Maria Miller, told the Guardian. “Until we get it right for dads we can’t get it right for mums.”

The committee launched its inquiry last year in response to surveys and studies that showed many men still felt financially, professionally and culturally unable to take time off or downshift during the crunch early years of their children’s lives.

In particular, men said it was hard to persuade employers to take their request for leave seriously, and expressed concerns about being sidelined if they asked for flexible working patterns.

As a result, the numbers of fathers able to take time off, caring for their families and encouraging their wives to get back into work remains small.

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Three years ago, the government introduced shared parental leave, which gave couples the option of splitting 50 weeks of leave entitlement and 37 weeks of pay, but take-up is thought to be a low as 2%.

Instead, the committee says the UK should follow the Swedish example of ringfencing paternity leave, which couples would lose if the father does not take it up.

“There should be protected dad leave because that is the most effective way of getting dads to take time off – and not just when their little ones are born,” Miller said.

Miller said it was crucial that the 12-week leave period should be available to “men of all incomes”. Many men in lower income groups have said they could not afford to take leave at the rate of statutory maternity pay. The committee report recommends paternity pay should be set at 90% of the father’s pay, and capped for higher earners.

The committee also wants the government to introduce a law to ensure that jobs are advertised as flexible from day one, unless there are proper business reasons not to.

“What all parents want is more flexible working,” Miller said. “Business listens to the law. We are still in a situation where dads overwhelmingly feel they will be badly thought of for taking shared parental leave – it is seen as a lack of commitment to the job.”

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, the UK’s work life balance charity, said properly paid paternity leave would send a strong signal from government about the importance of the role of fathers in a child’s early years.

She added: “Efforts to enable father involvement will fail if, upon their return to work, fathers cannot work part-time or flexibly because those jobs simply aren’t available and their workplace culture is hostile to their ambition to share care of their children.”

Andrew Hammerton, a father of two who works in marketing, said it was only the combination of a generous, understanding employer, a wife keen to get back to work, and his own determination that made it possible to take six months out last year when his second daughter was born.

“I needed the stars to align or it wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. “I had legitimate support from my workplace. There’s a level of flexibility that is totally supported. But I still feel incredibly lucky – my experiences are not the norm.”

The government will announce the results of a review of shared parental leave later this year.

Contributor

Mark Rice-Oxley

The GuardianTramp

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