The Women and Equalities Committee has published a report highlighting what it sees as the difficulties that fathers face in balancing their careers with childcare responsibilities. The report makes a series of proposals which aim to put men and women on a more equal footing when it comes to maternity and paternity leave. The most headline grabbing recommendation is that fathers should receive one month’s leave at 90% of their salary (capped for higher earners) when their wife or partner has a baby and a further two months of paternity leave at £141 a week, without any loss of rights for the mother.
The report also suggests a new policy of 12 weeks dedicated childcare leave for a father in a child’s first year as an alternative to Shared Parental Leave, and recommends that paternity leave should be available for all employees, not just fathers, who have worked continuously for their employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the child is due.
Since April 2015, Shared Parental Leave (SPL) has already enabled eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after a baby is born. Employers must pay SPL at £140.98 per week or 90% of the parent’s average earnings, whichever is lower.
However, there has not been much male take-up of SPL. Some argue that this is due to employers having differing maternity and paternity policies, whereby the mother receives enhanced maternity pay that goes beyond the minimum pay for SPL but the father does not. This can make it unaffordable for some families to opt-in to SPL and is a situation that the report aims to address.
Maria Miller MP, Chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, argues that these “outdated” policies on maternity and paternity leave are not meeting the needs of modern-day families. Boosting paternity pay to 90% of earnings and extending paid time off would mean many fathers could afford to spend time with their young child. The report concludes that this would have positive effects for the gender pay gap and gender parity in the workplace: if fathers are just as likely as mothers to take time off for childcare, then both men and women will be seen as having equal obligations and commitments outside of work. Additionally, by being able to afford to take less time out of work, then women may be able to advance their careers in a shorter time period.
With this in mind, it may be an apt time to review your family leave policies. If you are an employer who can afford to go beyond the minimum pay, and have men and women in your workforce who may wish to take up shared parental leave but could not afford to, then the recommendations made in this report are well worth considering.